I assume most of you have seen the stellar movie The Dark Knight (2008) by now. One of the strongest lines, right at the end of the film, caught my attention and I have been dying to use it in a post since long. Now feels like the perfect opportunity. "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now." For the laymans under us who don’t understand: The hero in this case is obviously Batman, who is willing to put his life on the risk to safe his city, Gotham. An important person was killed and Batman puts the blame on him in order to maintain justice and order in the city… Seriously, go watch the movie already, it’s great and for the ladies: it has a magnicifent Heath Ledger in it.
Back to the quote. Ok, Gotham, Batman, Gordon, murders, it doesn’t relate to AS Roma in a million miles. Or maybe it does? Just exchange Gotham with Roma and hero with Europa League. ‘Because the Europa League is what Roma deserves, but not the one it needs right now." Yes, now we’re talking.
Hmm, how do I put this mildly? How can I describe the Europea League without sounding like a bitter, grumpy old man who’s still in love with the Victoria’s Secret model and doesn’t even look at her uglier sister? Because that’s what the EL is: an ugly downgrade, a pool of less talented teams who failed to keep up with the big boys. Still, the EL is what Roma deserve right now: the second tier, the basement. They’re not quite up to the task of competing with Bayern, Real, Chelsea or PSG. For their own safety, for the sake of escaping another 1-7 drubbing, they must continue their journey in the Europa League. Rightfully so. A score of 5/18 in the group stage is a serious fail. Roma deserves EL and vice versa.
The second part of the quote ("but not the one it needs right now") is true as well. Roma don’t need the Europa League. Pallotta and Rudi don’t need it. It’s a waste of time. They’ve been blinded by the big money jars of Champions League. It was a major goal since Team America took over. And just when they first tasted the grand luxury of that competition (Bayern, City, Moscow: three fine football advertisements for the city of Rome), they had to ‘let it go’ (from the movie Frozen, another blockbuster). It was quite the blow, on the verge of progressing, just narrowly losing out on another big financial break… Now there is Feyenoord, not quite the calibre of a Bayern or City but nonetheless a European fixture Roma has to play and honor. And they will. But at which costs?
The Europa League brings with it midweek games which could have a real impact on Roma’s Serie A ambitions (be it title, top 2, even relegation is still mathematically possible at this point). Juve’s ongoing CL campaigin could affect their form in Serie A in the long run. Napoli face a difficult task in the EL ahead of them too. Roma should have profited from this situation. Instead, the Giallorossi too are facing at least two midweek games. Fatigue, injuries and for what? 10 cents and probably an elimination in the next stage? Can this current Roma really challenge Sevilla, Liverpool, Wolfsburg, Zenit or Tottenham for the cup? Why even bother?
UEFA has tried to enlarge the image and whole prestige around the former UEFA Cup. They haven’t failed but haven’t succeeded too, the difference in checks between EL and CL remains substantial. Yet, there are some pros to this whole EL-circus. If you dig deep enough. Let’s look at the last couple of teams who won the Europa League: Sevilla, Chelsea, Atlético, Porto and Shaktar. That’s a pretty impressive list and the name ‘AS Roma’ would look good on it. That and the fact that Roma have won only a single European trophy in its 88 years of existence (thanks for the welcome correction, RomanistaSfegatato) in 1961 (the ancient Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which didn't have the same prestige as other UEFA products that time) and they only played two European finals since then (83-84 and 90-91). For the sake of argument: PSV, Parma, Nottingham Forrest, Galatasaray, Steaua Bucharest, Ipswich Town and Red Star Belgrade all have one (or more) UEFA title(s) in their cabinet. That’s gotta hurt proud Romanisti.
Feyenoord is a start but there are far more interesting fixtures ahead of us if Roma qualify for the next round. An Inter or Napoli clash (easy and cheap, close to home), a reunion with Lamela at Tottenham, an ‘American derby’ between Liverpool and Roma, two games against the title contenders Sevilla,…They are all welcome to expand the brand of Roma in Europe. Maybe the jump from being sixth or seventh in Serie A to a sudden CL campaign with 3 European champions was a bit too steep for our taste. Baby steps.
The Europa League offers a nice distraction, especially with the Coppa Italia out of the way, in between Serie A duties. And it’s a good test for hopefully another big bad CL-campaign in 2015-2016. After all, you must learn to walk before you can run.
I’d like to end in a fitting way, with two more fine quotes from The Dark Knight universe: Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded. Roma, let’s put a smile on those faces on Thursday!