The Premier League, the Champions League and the Europa League walk into a pub...
Champions: What you looking at?
Europa: Can I touch you?
Champions: Back off freak.
Europa: Come on, just a little touch.
Champions: You did this last time.
Europa: Exactly. It's just a touch. It's not like I'm going to mount you.
Champions: Touch me then.
Champions: You alright?
Champions: What's wrong?
Europa: I'm *cough* I'm...choking *coughing*
Champions: You look faint.
Premier: What's going on here then?
Champions: He tried to touch me.
Premier: Wanna have sex?
Okay, so now I've got the clumsy meta joke out of the way let's ask that fabled go-to question one more time: What is more important - Champions League qualification or winning silverware (the Europa League)? What would you choose?
Firstly, two things.
It's hardly an original conundrum.
It shouldn't be a choice.
It's been discussed time and time again and I've for the most part advocated the necessity for CL as a general priority for a club in our position rather than it being a replacement for winning a cup or for said cup to be sacrificed for the good of the priority. We should be aiming for the highest finish possible and if we are still involved in a cup competition we should be looking to win it.
With oil money clubs and the skewering of player ambition it's easy to conclude that footballers want to play at the top level and play there consistently. Simply qualifying for the CL every season is hardly a pleasing scenario for most players who believe themselves good enough for more that just participating. As I wrote recently, take a look at the perpetual cycle of nothingness down the road where the only constant is their best players moving onto a new club that can offer them tangible success.
A club like Tottenham usually possesses players of quality and the harsh reality is at some point these players seek to move on because of that desire of consistency they can find at other clubs that have cemented their qualification. Which is fair enough because it's happening down the road it's more than likely going to happen to us too.
CL will give us a platform to hold onto and then build on what we have. Meaning, we get stronger and stronger. Which could lead to us being strong enough for a title push. And with a title push you'd expect 3rd spot at the very least therefore equating to CL every season. It's all very much dependent on a variety of variables, not least what we achieve within the club but also how other clubs manage their own lofty ambitions.
Basically, there are still no guarantees. Football is both simplistic and brutal in its delivery. We might be on the verge of a time-share as opposed to the complete ownership of the Sky Sports top four era. The Premier League remains in a state of flux. I suspect the same five or so clubs will always be cited pre-season but with those transitions and changes, there isn't a certified VIP guest-list. Utd and City edging the rest of us in the queue currently.
League games are bread and butter but you'll be dished up a far more lavish meal if you take your place in the Champions League. Nothing else in football is tangible enough in forcing a shift of power. But that's not to say dismissing a cup competition should therefore be acceptable practice in this search for...well, what is it exactly? The search for the possibility of glory? Qualification is hardly glory itself. But you can't knock the potential for seasoned visits to Milan or Madrid or even Barcelona.
Winning anything or rather wanting to win everything, especially for a side that has aspirations, is vital to be able to build momentum and a winners mentality. There's also the fact that if you win something you become part of the history being created and another chapter is added to your clubs chronicle. As a supporter you define your team by way of the football played, the players that grace your shirt and the trophies you win. For the team in question, it allows them to mature and grow and feed off that desire to better themselves further. These are your standard building blocks for not just wanting to puncture the record books every so often with a silverware win but attempting to acquire the mental fortitude to be involved in such quests time and time again, with the very same team.
For me this whole discussion point is no longer a conundrum. It never really was. I allowed myself to be pulled from one side to the other by the rationalising.
It's simple. Winning silverware is what football is all about. And there is no point in qualifying for the Champions League if - as far fetched as it might appear to be now - you're not in it to win it. Sure, you might not be capable of 'it' (much like you might not be capable of winning a domestic title) but you still have to build towards desiring that dream and then fighting for its realisation.
We've evolved from mid-table to Europa and then to consistently chasing top four. Our mind set, generally speaking, is good (although there are areas that need improving in terms of strategy off the pitch). Our application is still a work in progress. Our expectations will always differ based on how you perceive growth. An example of this is how many (at the start of the season) did not expect a top four finish but would now be gutted if it wasn't achieved. Expectations never stand still.
Football is broken if you end up winning a cup but feel more gutted about finishing outside of qualifying for another competition. Ask yourself, in ten years time when they release another version of The Glory Glory Nights, what do you expect to see within its pages? A new modern day cup winning final or us cementing fourth place in the league?
I will still be bitterly disappointed if we don't finish in the top 4/3 this season. But that will only serve to illustrate we've haven't got the right balance to sustain and consolidate. But a cup win? In Europe? Just that one cup win in Europe overshadows X amount of years qualifying for that other competition and ending up with nothing to show for it. That very desire of wanting to win it should not be dismissed either. Aim high. Forget every other club, just think of Tottenham. Glory isn't measured by anything other than Spurs achieving it. No matter where or when and how many times. I've misplaced that thought time and time again in recent years. Shame on me.
You do need CL to be able to win the title but you need something like the Europa League to make you believe you're on the right path to it. But equally so, you need something like the Europa League to give you an everlasting memory and if the game isn't about moments then I'm not watching the same game you are.
Football isn't broken. Our perception of it is.