Aidan O'Hara: Monk's Euro apathy sums up League's obsession with itself
Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30
The most impressive thing about Swansea and Garry Monk isn't that they are going to reach a record Premier League points total or that they have done so while selling their star striker in the middle of the season.
It's that, unlike so many other clubs, they haven't mentally headed for the beach and their summer holidays once they reached the goals that would have been expected of them before the season started. Instead, they have maintained a level of professionalism in performance and, more importantly, attitude which could yet see them finish as high as seventh. And therein lies the problem.
"I'm always pushing to win and finish as high as possible and if that takes us somewhere else so be it, but what comes with that is a lot of work in the summer," said Monk ahead of tonight's game against Arsenal. The "that" to which he refers through gritted teeth is the Europa League.
"I'm very mindful about how that experience (being in Europe) affected us last season. You see it across the board, outside of the bigger clubs, that it affects league form - and next season will be so important with the rewards of the TV money in the new deal. The league will always be the most important thing to us and if we were to get into Europe we would have to deal with it."
Monk is 36 and has performed superbly in the 15 months he has been in charge of Swansea but, like so many other managers, few things sum up the Premier League's obsession with all things Premier League quite like their attitude to the Europa League.
Most of the big clubs in the Premier League would look down their nose at Seville, Fiorentina, Napoli and Dnipro because their record signing fee isn't that high or they can't afford to pay exorbitant wages but, unlike most of the Premier League, one of those four will be in the Champions League next season via victory in Europe's secondary competition.
That amendment to the competition should have heralded a change in attitude from Premier League teams towards the Europa League but, instead, as Monk said, it is still treated like something that they "would have to deal with".
After Liverpool lost to Arsenal, Harry Redknapp reckoned "they are now in a battle with Tottenham to avoid the Europa League" and, given the performances of both since, it's hard to think that this attitude hasn't permeated throughout the two clubs.
This season, the Europa League gave Tottenham an extra 10 games before they were knocked out with a shrug against Fiorentina while Liverpool came and went with similar apathy against Besiktas. Hull City pretended to care after they were knocked out in the final qualifying round which enabled them to concentrate fully on a season of trying to survive in the Premier League. And look how that is working out.
The competition can be awkward and nothing says there are too many teams involved quite like the fact that a team can be drawn to play in "Group L" but, for young managers and relatively smaller teams, it's a challenge that should be relished.
Tottenham won three and lost three of their Premier League games played immediately after group fixtures in the Europa League and put the home defeats against West Brom, Newcastle and Stoke down the difficultly in juggling Thursday/Sunday fixtures. It proved one of football's great certainties which is that if you offer up an easy excuse for players, they'll take it.
An analysis of the 10 Premier League games they played after Europe shows they won five, drew one and lost four of their matches which gives them an average of 1.6 points per game. In other words, the exact same as they've managed throughout the whole season.
Despite themselves, it looks as though Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers will again be juggling European and domestic football next season which presents them with a challenge that neither seems particularly keen to make the best of.
Every player and manager should want to play European football and, given how poorly Rodgers fared in his first Champions League campaign, the Europa League gives him and Liverpool a chance to develop skills, strengthen their squad and, perhaps by getting the latter stages, give the club a focus which is sadly lacking as this current season draws to a meandering close.
It seems unlikely that Jose Mourinho and Porto would have won the 2004 Champions League without the experience of winning the UEFA Cup the previous year while Atletico Madrid's victories in 2010 and 2012 certainly helped them develop to almost winning the Champions League in 2014.
These should be the examples that Premier League teams seek to emulate but, instead, finishing anywhere between eighth and 17th is seen as preferable. And that's before the new TV deal floods money through the Premier League like a tsunami.
It might take a manager like Monk or Ronald Koeman at Southampton to trust their team and themselves enough not to fear relegation while attacking a European competition that gives them a chance to win a trophy and qualify for the Champions League which would be among the high points in the club's history.
Or, more likely, and sadly, they'd just prefer to finish ninth.
Tweets of the week
David Meyler (@DavidMeyler7)
-Unfortunately for Hull after their defeat to Arsenal, the eye of this Tiger wasn't able to rise up to the challenge of their rival.
Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario)
Life is great.
- When you live in your own world like the Liverpool striker, it must be.
Charlie Austin (@chazaustin9)
Surely there is another word other than professional footballer for messi because he is on a different planet to the rest of us!!!!!!!!
- The QPR man sums up the bafflement everyone feels while wondering just how the Barca magician can be so good.
Joey Barton (@Joey7Barton)
Just been and voted and there was a rather large queue. Suppose that's a good thing, right?
- As it turned out, from Barton's Labour point of view, not so much.
Jonathan Walters (@JonWalters19)
Yes @David_Cameron Glad the country has seen sense...
- Maybe there have been many Irish international Tory supporters over the years. It just feels like an odd combination.
Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish1)
Over the moon to get my first prem league man of the match, more important what a win from the boys! Fans were great
- The Villa youngster again has the temerity to tweet about something other than his international allegiance.
Paul McShane (@pmacca15)
All the best to @NewtownUtd today playing Bohs in the LSL quarter finals. Up the village.
- Even while in a relegation fight, the Hull man's mind drifts to home. To compound a bad weekend for the Ireland international, Newtown lost the game 2-0.
Bet you should have done
Sunderland to beat Everton, 17/4
Sunderland woke up and saved themselves from relegation around this stage last season and this was a bet for anyone who fancied them to do the same.
They had huge slices of luck in this game however, after beating Manchester United, Everton have now lost two on the trot as their season draws meekly to a close.