The Europa League has had a bad press in England since its rebranding from the Uefa Cup. In the past, that competition was a desirable one with a reputation full of prestige. Now though, most managers have frequently come out and said that they wouldn't want to participate in the tournament, in fact at one point Liverpool were keen to remove themselves from it should they qualify through the Fair Play League.
Sylvain Distin echoed those sentiments this week, questioning whether Everton could cope with playing the regular Thursday and Sunday schedule that Europe's least loved competition demands from its competitors. Look at Swansea this season for example, their qualification as League Cup champions last year has had a telling effect on their Premier League campaign this year.
The financial rewards from participating aren't really worth the hassle either, with the eventual winners only making around £5million, which is a pittance compared to the exorbitant rewards that the promised land of the Champions League has to offer through various TV deals, extra attendance revenue and qualifications bonuses.
Everton though, must be realistic. As their Champions League qualification hopes have faded after the turn of the year and the demoralising loss to Liverpool, combined with the other teams stepping up a gear, the Europa League has become more of an attractive reward for an excellent first season in charge for Roberto Martinez.
If Everton were to have qualified for the Champions League, how far could they have truthfully gone? Qualifying for the group stage would prove a testing challenge, as we already know from the heartbreak of Villareal all those years ago. Could Everton qualify from the group stages? Not likely. Finishing in the top two of a group where they would arguably be placed amongst some of the tougher teams in the competition, given a probable low seeding, would be an extremely tough ask of this current Everton side.
Finishing in third would result in the Blues dropping into the Europa League, and so all we would have succeeded in doing was avoiding the group stages anyway. Considering Everton would have probably suffered a series of defeats or draws in order to end up in third place beforehand, it is questionable whether they should bother in the first place.
Of course, all of this comes down to money. Qualifying for the Champions League would provide Everton with the funds that many think could take us to the next level. Regardless of that though, it would surely be more profitable in terms of squad morale to be travelling across Europe to games in which they can win and compete, rather than travelling to places such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and PSG where our hopes would be slim.
Another factor to take into account from next year is that the winner of the Europa League will qualify for the Champions League the following season. Is winning that competition beyond Everton should they invest wisely in the summer? Not at all. After failing in their Champions League defence Chelsea managed to win it despite some sketchy performances. Tottenham have regularly gotten to the latter stages with a youth side and Liverpool did a similar job several years ago and Everton could do a similar thing. I for one would be keen to see Everton win the competition, as a trophy is a trophy regardless of what it is.
All of this of course, depends on the increasing importance of Everton's summer transfer business. Should they be allowed to use the money accrued from exits this season as the fan base hope, and add to their thin squad in the process, then they could make a decent attempt at the Europa League. The majority of fans would also be keen to return to traipsing across Europe in support of the Blues and bring European nights to Goodison once again. For now though, qualifying should remain Everton's main priority in the final run in.