How Do You Solve A Problem Like Europa?
By Jonathan Anderson
Tuesday 11 Sep 2012 15:13:00
Browse all Jonathan Anderson articles

How do you solve a problem like Europa!? – After a season that most of us would never have predicted, a top 5 finish, a hairs breadth away from the Champions League spots and the return of European nights to St James’, we’re left with a bit of a conundrum this season; do we embrace the Europa League for being the reward that is and go all out and try win the thing? Or do we put it second in priority and have another crack at the top 6?! Thanks to some early injuries to key players, some could argue that 3 games into a so far uninspiring Premier League campaign, its already starting to take its toll; but personally, given the young squad we are quietly developing, I’d like to think there’s a way we can potentially do both, whilst also developing the young players in our squad.

At the moment I think it’s fair to say, especially given the fantastic season we’ve just had, that we have a very strong first team these days. Players like Yohan Cabaye, Papiss Cisse, Chieck Tiote, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Jonas Gutierrez, Tim Krul and of course our captain marvel himself Fabricio Coloccini are all full internationals and bona fide top class footballers. It was this nucleus of players that lead our romp to fifth place last year, and, if we are going to try to emulate that this season, these players are going to have to carry their form on in the league again this time too. This is where the problem lies, clearly playing every other Thursday night against teams from Madeira, Belgium et al, then having to get all the way back in time for a league match away to Stoke on the Sunday is not ideal preparation; previous Premier League seasons are littered with sides who’s league form has suffered due to participation in the UEFA Cup.

Now clearly the window is shut and our squad does look thin on the ground; a right back, a centre back and another forward were all considered areas most in need of strengthening this term. The likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Douglas and even our own Andy Carroll were all strongly linked with the club this summer, and would have been welcome additions alongside Anita, and the recruitment of younger players Gael Bigirimana, Romain Amalfitano and Curtis Good. For reasons we can only speculate at (Hmm, money you think!?!) none ended up joining, so whether we like it or not, we’re left with what we’ve got until January.

However, looking at it positively with the glass half full, over the last 2/3 years we have quietly accrued quite a few apparently highly rated young players from home and abroad, with most now seemingly knocking on the door of the first team. The Europa League will provide a minimum of 6 games that would be ideal for giving first team experience to these players, without having to lose them from the squad to send out on loan anywhere. Players like the aforementioned Bigirimana, Amalfitano and Good, along with the likes of Haris Vukic, Medhi Abeid, Sammy Ameobi, James Tavernier, Shane Ferguson and Dan Gosling would all benefit greatly from some regular first team games against a decent quality opposition.

It would of course be foolish to just throw these players into these games without any sort of experienced players to provide the necessary guidance and backbone that the team would need. Injuries to the first team regulars permitting; players like Shola, James Perch, Sylvain Marveux, Rob Elliot, Steve Harper and Mike Williamson may not start as many games in the league as they would like this season, so would provide a good foundation of experience for this younger crop. Of course, if needs be and we do find ourselves in a spot of trouble and we need a get out of jail card, we can call upon two or three of the big guns. They are after all professional footballers, so 2 games in a week shouldn’t be too taxing; it’s when it becomes a regular occurrence over the course of a season that it starts taking its toll on the squad.

Then, of course if all goes well and the team does manage to progress through the tournament and finds themselves still going strong into the spring, then it might be time to start integrating more of the bigger names into the team. It may be a little harsh on the players that have been regulars throughout the tournament but many of the younger players will have no doubt benefitted from these games and will have hopefully continued to develop into better players for the experience. This is clearly all hypothetical, especially with a club like ours and the early injuries we’re already dealing with, but if we can make it to say, the quarter final stage then a real possibility of a trophy is there; the club then has a responsibility to then give it everything to try and bring that trophy back to St James'. 


Obviously I’m starting to get a bit ahead of myself here; and given the pretty underwhelming start to the season so far and the fact that we’re already starting to lose players to injuries, this might just be ‘perfect world’ thinking. The fact remains however, there are 6 guaranteed games to be played; games that if we are wise we could really use to our advantage to help develop our young, fringe players desperate for some first team football, whilst keeping our big names fresh for those vital Premier League games. That’s the theory anyway, footballs always simple in theory; but if all goes to plan, we get lucky with injuries and the likes of Liverpool & Spurs keep shooting themselves in the foot, who knows, maybe next year we might even be making plans for our assault on the other European tournament, the one played on the Wednesdays nights! Now that is ‘perfect world’ thinking!


By Jonathan Anderson


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