The fact that Europa FC lost 9-0 to Slovan Bratislava over two legs came as no surprise to anyone – one of the nuances in the first qualifying rounds of European qualifiers is that an unseeded side in the Champions League first qualifying round is likely to get an easier opponent than a team in the Europa League will. However, the 180 minutes played over the course of the last two weeks offered a few key points for Europa to learn ahead of the upcoming season, where they plan to try and challenge the monopoly held over the local game by Lincoln.
Consistency is key within the club
It’s safe to say that consistency and Europa FC do not go hand in hand. Players, managers and other staff have come and gone in what has been one of local football’s quickest conveyor belts. The best example of this would be the home leg against Slovan Bratislava, compared to the home leg against Vaduz last season. Of the 18 man squad named in the Vaduz game, only three players have survived to make the team against Slovan; Matt Cafer, Cristian Toncheff and Aymen Mouelhi. Such a high turnover rate of players does little to help a team gel, with the squad almost starting from scratch each season, and this was evident in the first half at the Victoria, where it felt like 11 strangers gathered together to face a team of professionals who tore them apart.
Unsurprisingly though, a number of new signings have been announced in the last two weeks, including new Head Coaches in David and Dimas Carrasco. If they are still at the club next season, and most of the players currently in pre-season training with Europa actually still belong to the club in 12 months time, that would constitute some progress for a team that has had extra helpings of self inflicted turmoil in recent times.
More local involvement will help them win back some support
Another stark statistic from the squad list in the first leg, and one that did not go unnoticed by the fans who attended the home leg (754 was the official attendance compared to 824 last season against Vaduz) was that there was not a single local player in the eleven that lined up two weeks ago. Compare that to the five who started vs Vaduz (including three current internationals in Jamie Robba, Jamie Bosio and Jamie Coombes) and you can see why people were not as interested in turning up to the Victoria, despite the opposition being of a higher calibre than Santa Coloma were. The ticket prices may have contributed to that too (Lincoln’s cheapest ticket was £5 compared to Europa’s £10, although Europa did offer a children’s ticket which is more than Lincoln did) but in a small place where national pride is massive, retaining some sort of local presence is vital if you want to build a fan base.
While it is true that Lincoln tend to hoover up the best local talent, due to their status in local football as the premier team on the Rock, there is still a lot of talent available that Europa could tap into, and potentially use as cheaper, equally skilled alternatives to some of the foreign players they have imported into their team in recent months. Each team is allowed to have their own approach to transfers, and they should be respected, not hounded for it, but it is fair to say that a club almost entirely full of foreign talent will not win many admirers in Gibraltar.
There’s still a way to go before they catch up with Lincoln
As pointed out in the first paragraph, Europa’s chances of progression were hampered by being paired against far superior, professional opponents in Slovan Bratislava, and nothing about the two games can be a factor when judging the chances Europa have in this season’s Premier Division. However, the Red Imps are still a long way clear of the league’s other representatives, with the gap potentially set to grow further after their victory against Santa Coloma earned them a further six-figure sum to invest back into their day to day running and professionalism.
With Lincoln set to earn around £300,000 more than Europa this season, and Europa in turn making more money than the other eight teams in the league this season from competitions, most predictions for this season would probably have Lincoln winning the league again, with Europa finishing second. The increase to a ten team league makes for a more interesting division, as well as the reintroduction of relegation after a one year absence in order to rebalance the league. Additionally, the recent sale of Lions to Enterprise Insurance CEO Andrew Flowers suddenly makes them a potent threat to the league, with their new owner, previously talked about as making a bid for English team Leeds United, set to turn the team semi-professional and bring in the kind of talent required to challenge for local honours.
There is still a while until the season starts, with most teams currently in the infant stages of their pre-season preparations. The now annual European campaigns are an early opportunity to watch competitive football on the Rock, and should whet people’s excitement levels for what could be one of the most interesting domestic campaigns to date.