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The Europa League Conference, much more than a consolation of the consolation / C4 / Final / AS Rome-Feyenoord / May 25, 2022 /

Sometimes mocked, often misunderstood, the Europa League Conference bows out of its first edition this Wednesday evening. With, at the end of the day, a final that smacks of old-fashioned football. Understand, when the two protagonists were not known months in advance. What if this scent of nostalgia ends up becoming the norm in the future?

05/25/2022 at 9 p.m.

Europa League Conference

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The scene had something mystical about it. On May 22, 2021, following a well-placed header in the last second of added time on the last day, Max Kruse shot RB Leipzig and sent Union Berlin to the Europa League Conference, just one year after the rise of the Eisernen in the elite. The reaction was immediate: spontaneously, the supporters went up in flames and celebrated this unexpected qualification like a real title. And this, without looking or judging the number next to the “C”. Because this C4, for a modest Bundesliga team, was going to become the opportunity to live an adventure that we thought was reserved for an increasingly closed group: to compete in European competition.

If the Old Continent mostly rose up against the project to create a Superleague last year, it is clear that, despite its abandonment, the fact remains that the current format of the Champions League has airs of semi-closed competition, in which only a powerful few still have the right to carve out a piece of the pie. Created to allow the “small” nations of European football to live an experience on a continental scale, the Europa League Conference seems to have won its bet. Thus, while in the group stage of C1, 17 clubs out of 32 belonged to only 4 countries (Spain, Italy, Germany and England), for a total of 15 nations represented, in C4, there are no less than 24 different flags which floated on the 8 groups of UEFA’s latest creation. All with some big historical names in football from the Old Continent (CSKA Sofia, AS Rome, Feyenoord, Partizan Belgrade and FC Copenhagen to name a few), accompanied by some scarecrows traditionally subscribed to the summer preliminary rounds (Bodø / Glimt, HJK , Lincoln Red Imps or Alashkert).

C4, when your heart goes boom!

If the C4 format is still relatively complex to explain, both orally and in writing, what must be remembered is that no one is directly qualified for the group stage. In other words: even by starting directly in the play-offs, nothing is certain, and that requires playing your card thoroughly. At the right time: the participants all played the game. Enough to debunk the idea that this competition with an extended name would be a tournament at a discount for which you shouldn’t have to worry too much, at the risk of take the water in the rest of the national competitions. Stade Rennes, for example, can testify to this. The Union Berlin too.

For lovers of geography and beautiful stories, this first edition of the C4 was a treat. Thus, we will inevitably remember this incredible victory (6-1) won by Bodø against Roma, thereby inflicting on José Mourinho the most severe correction of his entire coaching career, excuse me a bit. We also remember these 166 Roman tifosi climbed to the polar circle to encourage their team despite a new setback (2-2), proof that the passion does not stop at the number of kilometers to be covered, even to play the smallest European cups. A competition is a competition, a title remains a title and so much the worse for the snobs fed on football business and who gargle to rhyme credibility with big ears.

Back to the future

In any case, this final in Tirana, in a small brand new stadium which already promises to be boiling hot, will lead to a historic victory, cumulated at the end of a (very) long period of scarcity. The last time Feyenoord lifted a European trophy was thanks to Pierre van Hooijdonk and Jon Dahl Tomasson, against Dortmund in 2002. For Roma, we have to go back to 1961, when the C3 was still called the Cities Cup of fairs. That year, Giacomo Losi’s partners won 4-2 (aggregate score) against Birmingham City. Another era, no doubt about it. A time when the “European Cup” was really played all over Europe and where everyone had (theoretically) a chance. The exit of Bodø/Glimt in the quarter-finals, the unfortunate course of Olympique de Marseille and Leicester, both transferred from the C3, until the last four, and the fine performances of LASK Linz, Slavia Prague or PAOK Salonika, are all proof that it is possible to attend attractive and shimmering football, to experience a crazy atmosphere and to see the country, if indeed everyone has a space to express themselves. Moreover, how to devalue an international competition in which French clubs are struggling to reach the last four? We don’t do the European Cup anymore.

Finally, with the very tempting opposition between Eintracht Frankfurt and Glasgow Rangers, other historic clubs in European football, in C3, we could almost afford to play bad language by saying that it is beautiful and well the Champions League which has become cheesy. It doesn’t matter if the names present in C3 and C4 brew less money or make fans around the world dream less. The Europa League Conference has come to bring a shot of freshness to a sport that we thought had run out of steam, by dint of being the victim of its excesses. While some hold the spittoon with stories of transfers with indecent sums, below, some have returned to the essentials: fighting in the league and then discovering Europe. And once in the ring, play your luck thoroughly, regardless of the form of the trophy to be won.

By Julien Duez


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