Tim Sherwood column: Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas know the Europa League can make a manager

EXCLUSIVE COLUMN: Both had success in the competition but it's not taken as seriously in this country

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The Independent Online

The point is often made about managers from overseas in England that they want to win the Europa League more than they do the domestic cups in this country. The obvious response to that is, who can blame them? Look what winning it does for your career.

For Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas, the Europa League, and its predecessor the Uefa Cup, was the launch pad. Juande Ramos won it twice with Sevilla and was given the Tottenham Hotspur job on the back of that. Diego Simeone and Rafa Benitez have both won it in recent times – at different stages in their careers to Mourinho and Villas-Boas – but it has helped to bolster their reputation.

On occasions at Spurs, Ramos would prioritise Ledley King, who could only manage a game a week, for the Europa League over the Premier League. He did that because he saw the Europa League as something Tottenham could win and he had experienced what a European trophy had done for a club. It will be no different now. I am sure that Mauricio Pochettino will want to win it, so too Roberto Martinez at Everton. And if Brendan Rodgers did so with Liverpool it would solve a lot of his problems.

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Mourinho's Porto winning the UEFA Cup in 2003

There is now the added incentive of a place in the Champions League next season for the winners of the Europa League, but even before that there was no shortage of reasons to try to go for it.

The first part of the competition is a strange mix. For a Premier League team there should be no excuses for going out in the group stage. The quality of some of the opposition makes it almost like a bye. Once you get beyond Christmas to the last-32 knockout stage then it becomes difficult. The weaker teams have been weeded out and you have the eight sides from the Champions League to contend with.

I wanted to win it when I was Spurs manager last season, and we made it through against Dnipro in the round of 32. Our problem when we reached the last 16 was that we came up against Benfica, who had only just gone out the Champions League at the group stage on goal difference with 10 points. They were a good side. We were short of defenders for the second leg and we conceded a goal too easily.

At no stage, however, did I ever have anyone at the club discouraging me from trying to win in the Europa League. The chairman, Daniel Levy, wanted us to go for it too. Of the current team, the defender Federico Fazio won it last season with Sevilla and there is no doubt that the players want to win it.

The competition is a slog, especially with one more knockout round than the Champions League after Christmas. But look at the good teams that are now in it: Roma, Liverpool, Ajax, Athletic Bilbao, Internazionale, Napoli and Everton. This is a competition a lot of people within football watch with interest and it is a great stage for a manager to shine upon.

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The Europa League prepared Mourinho for later triumphs

 

On top of that, it is wide open. It is not often the case that the most obvious contender wins it and, either way, it is hard to pick a favourite when you factor in the demands of the league season and the effect that a Thursday game has on the rest of a team’s schedule. In the last 30 years it has only been won three times by English clubs – Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea – in contrast to eight times by Italian clubs and eight times by Spanish clubs.

I expect Martinez, Rodgers and Pochettino to go for it in the Europa League in the new year. I do not think it is a risk these days with the size of the first-team squads these clubs have. The benefits of winning the competition are too good for any manager to ignore.

Pardew ignored distractions and stuck to his principles

His team have beaten Manchester City and Chelsea and now, as the manager of the month, Alan Pardew has his sights on Arsenal. It is an example of how a manager can overcome the difficult times in the job if he concentrates on the principles that have got him to where he is and does not become distracted by all the noise around him.

It cannot be easy when your own supporters are calling for you to go and there is a constant uncertainty about your job. No one, not even a manager like Pardew who has been through it a few times, can be immune to that. Even so, he has a way of setting up his team and he has good players. He believes in himself. You don’t last that long in the job by being a fraud.

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Alan Pardew heads to Arsenal on a high after beating Chelsea last week

Although they had beaten Leicester in their previous game, I thought it turned around for Alan with that second-half away win against Tottenham in October. He decided to go for it and attack Spurs and was rewarded very early in the half with a goal from Sammy Ameobi, one of his two half-time substitutes. From then on they won the game 2-1 and he has not really looked back.

He starts with a solid base, which is a good defence. Moussa Sissoko is the spring-board for the attacking part of his game. He can play central or on the right and he drives forward with the ball. It is such an asset to have a player who can run with the ball as powerfully as that. Yannick Bolasie at Crystal Palace is another one who is blessed with the ability to cover most of the length of the pitch in the time it takes some players to change direction.

As for Alan’s relationship with Mike Ashley, in my experience you never really know how a chairman and manager get on unless you are in there with them. In spite of what Ashley said about Pardew when he was in that bad run this season, the club’s owner has given him the chance to turn things around. It is not the first time he has done so during Pardew’s time at the club.

From what I know of Ashley, he is a very straightforward businessman. He does what he thinks is best for the business and does not let much distract him from that task. More than once he must have had people telling him to get rid of Alan, but has stuck with him and been rewarded.

January’s golden rule – sign better players than you’ve got

It is coming to that time of the season when clubs think hard about what they are going to do in the January transfer window. Last season at Spurs it was an easy decision for me not to sign anyone, I already had enough players. Any more and I would not have been able to accommodate them all in training sessions.

The difficult thing, as ever, is not blocking the path of decent young players by panicking and buying a mediocre player from elsewhere who gets in ahead of them. I was getting offered players in January but I felt that there were plenty of young players coming through at Spurs already. The closer a team is to the bottom of the league, the bigger that decision becomes.

Often, it is when the chairman or the owner sees their club doing well that they want to spend to try to push it on to the next level. As always, the challenge is to sign players who are better than the ones you already have. You need to be careful you don’t end up stockpiling old players  on long contracts when they were  only really brought in to do a job for the short term.

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