Villa are lucky to be out of Europa League

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The Independent Online

Martin O'Neill will not lose any sleep over Aston Villa's early eviction from Europe this season and neither will his club's accountants. When you're a member of the world's most affluent domestic division – the Premier League – then Uefa's Europa League is a tin-pot distraction that doesn't even come with the solace of a fat cheque.

Supposing Villa had beaten Rapid Vienna and got through the six-game 48-team group phase, and then won five more ties over nine games to lift the trophy, they would have picked up total prize money from Uefa of just €6.06m (£5.36m).

This would have been supplemented by money from the "market pool" of TV cash, shared out using a formula so complicated that when The Independent asked Professor Stephen Hawking to explain it last night, he said: "The un-i-verse is less com-pli-ca-ted." The bottom line is it might add another million pounds or so to the haul.

In short, the Europa League winners will get around £6.5m in prize money and TV cash. The Champions' Leauge winners get the thick end of £50m.

Teams that do not make it past the group phase in the Europa League make an average of £800,000 each prize money, amassed via payments just for being there (£531,000), for each group win (£106,000) and for each draw (£53,000).

Those teams reaching the last 32 get an extra £159,000, the last 16 get £270,000 more again, the last eight £319,000, the last four £558,000, the runners-up £1.77m and the winners £2.65m. To clubs of Villa's stature that is not a lot of money these days, and it is not all bankable because taking part in Europe costs money.

If they had beaten the Austrians, they would have had to play eight more away games to win the tournament, and therefore shell out eight times for chartered jets, hotel bills, security, extra insurance and the rest.

Home games can earn a few quid, if the crowds come in big numbers (unlikely), but staging matches costs money too. It has been whispered in more than one club corridor that the Europa League can actually cost money if the fans stay away. (Good luck, Everton and Fulham, by the way).

To use an economist's term, the opportunity costs can also be high, in sporting and monetary terms. The sporting cost from participation is being distracted from the serious business of the Premier League, where the aim is a place in the top four and a slot in the Big Cup (aka the Champions League). The monetary opportunity cost is a knock-on from the sporting cost. If you fail at home because of a schedule overloaded with the Europa League, you diminish the chances of Big Cup (and big money) next season.

Speaking of Villa's exit, O'Neill said yesterday: "In the cold light of day it is not the end of the world what has happened." He added he was going to use it to give experience to his youngsters. That tells you all you need to know.

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