ANYONE who called Portuguese side Paços de Ferreira a “pub team” from a “farmers league” must be a little red-faced after Tottenham Hotspur lost their first leg tie in the Europa Conference League.
The British media continually underestimate foreign teams and fans constantly dismiss opposition that doesn’t appear among the elite group of clubs? It’s also a little arrogant and portrays the English game as a. bunch of over-indulged children who have an air of entitlement.
Tottenham fielded a shadow 11, which was a surprise given their coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, is Portuguese. The team that so heroically beat Manchester City 1-0 on the opening weekend was discarded in favour of a mix of squad players and young debutants. Only Giovani Lo Celso, Matt Doherty and Christian Romero of the 14 players that featured against City were used in Portugal.
It has become an accepted part of the game that certain managers today disregard some cup competitions, but why field such a weakened team for the club’s only sniff of European football in 2021-22? For a start, it is cheating the fans, not least the Spurs travelling contingent. Secondly, it is devaluing UEFA’s new folly, and thirdly, it can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect towards the opposition.
Admittedly, there should be questions about UEFA’s new consolation prize competition, but if clubs do not want to enter, or consider it beneath their profile, then perhaps they should not bother playing in the first place. The Conference League may be relatively weak, but for some clubs, it is an exciting venture into the unknown. Spurs may have reached the Champions League final in 2019, but they are in the Conference on merit in 2021. Giving the impression “we’re too good for this” only serves to motivate the opposition and waste people’s time. Football is rife with this attitude, witness the way losing finalists now take their medals off after being awarded the runners-up prize.
Furthermore, the Conference League provides a club still seeking its first trophy since 2008 with the genuine chance of lifting some silverware. They might see it as meagre pickings, but let’s be honest, have transitional Spurs got a realistic chance of a major prize? When you consider just how few teams across the football universe can be successful in any one season, surely a bauble of any sort represents a return?
We can live with slightly weakened teams, perhaps resting one or two, but putting out a side that was the equivalent of a pre-season friendly at a local non-league club, was going way too far.
Spurs will probably get through to the next round, realising they need to bring back their big guns to ensure progress, but they certainly got caught with their pants down in Portugal. Winning is a habit, they say, which means taking each game seriously and fielding your best possible squad. To devalue first team games is, quite literally, an insult to the people who pay good money to watch their favourites. But they won’t be the last team this season to send out a scratch XI.