Proposed UEL2 could mean more European football opportunities for Everton
It sometimes feels as if there are so many different tournaments every year that the last thing we need is for UEFA to come up with yet another one. However, this is what they have done, and the tentatively-named UEL2 is scheduled to enter our lives in 2021.
For those who enjoyed the heady days of the late 20th century and the Cup Winners Cup, UEL2 will be a piece of welcome news. For 15 weeks of every year, Thursday will be UEL2 day and fans and players alike will drag themselves away from the Liverpool nightspots, the live blackjack and the other trappings of “fake Friday” to get immersed in the European football action.
Everton’s appearances in Europe
UEL2 is the spiritual successor of the Cup Winners Cup, a tournament that was a fan favourite in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Everton won the tournament in 1984/85, which was also the year they won the English Football League. It was a glorious time to be an Everton fan, when the likes of Andy Gray, Kevin Sheedy, Peter Reid and Neville Southall were in their pomp.
The heroics of that year should have meant participation in the European Cup as well as the opportunity to defend the Cup Winners Cup, but fate decreed otherwise. The Heysel disaster meant that Everton had to join every other English club on the European sidelines for the next five years, and the club only appeared in the Cup Winners Cup once in the 90s, losing in the second round to Feyenoord in the 1995/96 event.
Over the past decade, Everton has qualified for the Europa league twice, in 2014/15 and 2017/18. If UEL2 goes ahead as planned, though, there should be far more opportunities to play good quality European opposition on a regular basis.
Much like the Champions League, there will be two possible paths to qualify for UEL2. The “Champions Path” will comprise teams that have lost out in the qualifying stages of the Champions League, while the League Path will include winners and top finishers from a variety of domestic leagues and tournaments.
There will also be an opportunity for the third placed teams from the Europa League groups to get involved. They will take on the second placed group finishers from UEL2 in an additional knockout round, with the winners then playing the group winners in a round of 16.
All this means extra opportunities to play some top quality European football, and the closer integration between Champions League, Europa League and UEL2 should guard against the perceived lack of quality that was the death knell for the Cup Winners Cup back in the late 1990s.
If the tournament had been running last year, for example, Everton would have been an automatic inclusion to play in the preliminary knockout stage, having finished third in the group stage of the Europa League. More European football can only be a good thing, provided the opposition is strong and the games are meaningful.