You can stick your Barcelonas and your Bayern Munichs. The Europa League is the continent's finest football tournament, and here are the reasons why.
1. It has a better name
According to Greek mythology, Europa was the daughter of Agenor, King of Tyre, a city located in what was then Phoenicia and what is now Lebanon. Her brother, Cadmus, introduced the alphabet to Greece -- presumably it was called something different at the time -- and also, so the story goes, founded Thebes and killed the dragon that guarded the fountain of Dirce. But he's not important here.
Europa was of divine descent, counting the nymph Io as her great-great-grandfather, and Poseidon, god of the sea, as her paternal grandfather. Such was her beauty that Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus and god of the sky, of thunder and of industrial-scale philandering, became determined to seduce (or, more accurately, abduct) her. This he did by transforming himself into a bull and breathing a saffron crocus from his mouth, which is a decent trick if you can manage it. He then carried Europa on his back to Crete where they had several children, including Minos, the first King of Crete, who you may recall used to regularly sacrifice youths to the half-man, half-bull Minotaur. One for the therapist's couch, we think.
Anyway, there's a warning about the perils of immortality here: Careful analysis of the family tree reveals that Europa is descended from Io and Zeus, meaning that the king of the deathless gods was essentially smitten with his own great-great-granddaughter. From her name came the name of the continent to which she had been extraordinarily rendered, and from that continent comes the name of the Europa League. A competition that, like the story, is on the face of it quite amusing, yet deeply peculiar if you look at it too long.
Contrast with: "The Champions League." It's not even for "Champions." Arsenal are in it. And they haven't won a title since Zeus hung up his thunderbolts.
2. It has a better trophy
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The Champions League trophy is pretty great, sure, but the Europa League's big silver pot is a masterpiece. A very strange masterpiece. Shunning the traditional notion that a cup should look sort of like a weird cup, the Coupe UEFA is a kind of exploding vase, erupting up and out before ending in a sharp, slightly ragged edge. As though this was an amputated horn or a tooth, pulled from the body of something much larger. A real trophy, perhaps, hard-won in a world where Europeans spend their days hunting large silvery creatures across the plains, and their nights huddled in caves, the hunters now the hunted.
There are no handles; handles would be too predictable. It doesn't shine; the silver is perpetually misted, as though the metal itself is always on the verge of tears. And then there's the bottom of the thing, where a frieze of figures wind their way around the base. Look at it for a second, and they're playing football, they're having fun, they're having a good time. Look a little longer, and you start to worry. Are they OK? Are they being ... hurt? Are their limbs contorted not by pleasure or athletic effort, but by the weight of supporting this gargantuan silvery thing? How big was the creature from which it was torn? And what unthinkable thing might come to pass if they should falter, and lose their grip, and let it fall to the earth?
3. It doesn't care that its evil is showing
Still, credit to UEFA, who've made no effort to hide the ominous and uncanny majesty of their trophy. Between 2009 and 2012, the Europa League's opening sequence revealed the thing to be a gargantuan object of godlike proportions, squatting obscenely over the heart of some European city, viscous tentacles extended into the houses of the populace. Watch as it gently suckles the life from the town! See as it grows fat on dreams! Enjoy Sparta Praha vs. Krasnodar!
The Champions League is a tournament designed by accountants for the pleasure of Gazprom; the Europa League is a tournament designed by H. P. Lovecraft for the veneration of something unspeakable and unpronounceable. Luckily he left out most of the appalling racism.
4. It is strange, and strange is good
Over the last five years, Arsenal have played Barcelona 17 times, losing by an aggregate score of 128-2 (and one of those was offside). Over the entirety of recorded human history, Manchester United have never even played FC Midtjylland. Indeed, most of United's fans had never even heard of FC Midtjylland, or this strange land from which they hail. "Denmark." If you say so.
In short, the Champions League is where you go if you want the same things to happen over and over again. If you want comfort. If you are, essentially, a coward, afraid to step beyond the familiar rituals and into the world, leaving behind your cup of warm milk and your favourite blanket. Here, out in the Europa, be monsters. Here be dragons. Here be strange collections of syllables from mysterious and far off lands; here be footballers who slipped from your memory years ago, and who return now marked by their absence, familiar and yet changed by the journeys they have taken far beyond your understanding. Here, frankly, be living. Throw your milk aside.
5. It happens on Thursdays
And Thursdays are rubbish, and nobody ever has anything better to do, so that works out quite nicely.