Would the Europa League Benefit Everton?

How would the Spaniard handle the Europa League? - Clive Brunskill

Sir Alex Ferguson infamously called the second tier of European football a "punishment" in 2011. Would it be so for Everton?

European competition has eluded the Toffees since the 2009-10 season, when they were knocked out of the Europa League round of 32 by Portuguese outfit Sporting, and has been a constant target since. It has been a regular story of "close but not quite" for Everton in their efforts, twice nearly earning a berth via the FA Cup, and missing out for this season even though they finished 6th last campaign, which is good enough for qualification for the Europa League fairly frequently.

Even if Everton cannot earn a Champions League berth this season, a Europa League spot would certainly be a marker of the improvement shown under Roberto Martinez in his first season, and although the Champions League is by no means out of reach, the second tier of European football seems a more reachable goal, at least for the moment.

However, entrance into the Europa League doesn't come without its drawbacks for a club of Everton's stature. A 5th place finish in the league would see the Toffees enter the competition in the final playoff round before the group stage. Barring any incredibly cruel draw or massive upset, Everton would survive the 2-leg playoff (played during the opening weeks of the Premier League season unfortunately) with relative ease and enter the group stage.

The monetary reward for reaching the group stage this season is a measly 1.3 million euros (1.08 million pounds, 1.77 million dollars). For comparison, reaching the group stage of the Champions' League paid out a comparatively staggering 8.6 million euros (7.1 million pounds, 11.7 million dollars) in the 2012-13 season. The full list of payouts can be found here, but the comparison doesn't get any better. The club that wins the Europa League this season will only make 5 million pounds for it.

Of course, if it was as simple as making money for doing well in the competition, Evertonians would not argue with the comparatively minor income. The issue, of course, comes with the Europa League's potential interference with the Premier League.

The playoff round and group stage alone would add 8 additional games to Everton's schedule between the end of August and the middle of December. Would Everton's squad, potentially without Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry, and Gerard Deulofeu next season, be able to hold up in those extra matches?

Much would depend on who will be brought in over the summer, but with only 1.3 million euros coming in for reaching the group stage, the club would essentially be relying on the remnants of the Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic money to not only replace or bring back the players acquired on loan this season, but also bring in at least 3 or 4 players for coverage at striker, central midfield, and defense. Those numbers just don't add up.

Without the addition of such depth, there would be a legitimate fear that Everton could next season become what Swansea City has this season. Swansea qualified for the competition by winning the League Cup, and advanced through the Europa League group stage into the round of 32, but sits mired in the mediocrity of the bottom half of the table, only 4 points clear of the drop zone.

The Swans now face Napoli in the round of 32, a club with talent that likely will simply overpower the Welsh side. By the end of February, all Swansea may have to show for their efforts in the Europa League is a couple million euros, and a front row seat to the relegation battle. Of course, to suggest the Europa League is the sole cause of Swansea's league woes would be naive, but its effects are certainly a major factor in their decline.

Now, I am by no means suggesting that if Everton makes the Europa League that supporters should be worried about a relegation battle. That would simply be ludicrous. What I am suggesting is that the Europa League could very easily be the difference between fighting for a top 4, or at the very least top 6 spot, or being in 8th or 9th, ten points adrift from that conversation.

If Everton were to qualify for the Europa League, Roberto Martinez's best solution might be to lean on his young players throughout the group stage, giving them valuable experience without running his first team into the ground. It could be a decent opportunity for players such as John Stones, Shane Duffy, Francisco Junior, Magaye Gueye, Apostolos Vellios, and Luke Garbutt to get important minutes in matches that matter.

If a squad composed mainly of those players was able to push the Toffees through to the round of 32, then the benefit of using first team players in the Europa League could begin to outweigh the cost, and Everton could focus on making a legitimate run at some meaningful silverware. If they failed to make it through the group stage, then little would be lost.

So, would the Europa League benefit Everton? If depth can magically be acquired over next summer, the competition could be a positive factor in the season. If Martinez chooses to use the competition to give young players experience, the ultimate outcome would likely be positive as well. But if the club cannot bring in added depth, and takes the competition too seriously, it will impact their Premier League performace in a significant, negative way, and the club cannot afford to take that step back.

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