Matt Holland: Europe - for Newcastle an experience to enjoy, for Leeds an acid test

Thursday 12 December 2013 05:56
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European football is back this week and for the English clubs involved the results could decide future transfers, both in and out, and give the players a true measure of how good they are.

However, I have split the clubs into separate groups based on their differing ambitions and realistic targets. The big three, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, will harbour realistic dreams of winning the Champions' League, and Sir Alex Ferguson has made no secret of the fact that he considers it the most important club trophy. It has the most prestige, the giant clubs like Real Madrid and, very importantly, the most money.

Doing well in the Champions' League is now a financial necessity for these three. Their spending is colossal, whether it be on transfers like Rio Ferdinand, new grounds in north London or on Merseyside, or just wages exceeding £50,000 a week, and without qualification for the latter stages they will face a serious shortfall in revenue.

But it is two other English clubs in Europe that most intrigue me – Newcastle in the Champions' League and Leeds alongside Ipswich in the Uefa Cup. Can you imagine the crowd at St James' Park when Alan Shearer leads the black-and-white of Newcastle out on to the pitch to play Juventus? What a roar and what an occasion that will be. The Newcastle crowd is one of the most passionate and genuine that I have ever played in front of, and they will love watching their team play in the biggest club tournament in the world. However, they have the toughest group, as apart from the Italians they have to play Feyenoord and Dynamo Kiev. To go through would be an enormous success, and yet I don't feel that it is all that important.

That sounds odd, I know, but consider this. Sir Bobby Robson has invested a lot of money during the summer on young, very talented but inexperienced players. Titus Bramble, Jermaine Jenas and Hugo Viana complement Andy O'Brien, Kieron Dyer and Craig Bellamy. Their combined average age must be in the very low twenties and yet they are going to be up against some of the most technically proficient and proven footballers in the world.

Despite the experience supplied by Gary Speed, Shay Given and Shearer, this will be a very steep learning curve but a very profitable one in future seasons. Remember that the mighty Manchester United struggled during their first few years in the Champions' League. What Newcastle have to do is concentrate on the Premier League and view Europe as a distraction. Their domestic form has not been particularly good, and this will be a dreadful season if they finish mid-table and miss out on European football next season while being knocked out of it this.

They should have a plan of trying to get into the Champions' League consistently and then steadily improving their performances through the greater experience. That leaves this season as a European adventure rather than a must-win.

Leeds face a different set of problems. They desperately need money, and the best way to raise that is to win the Uefa Cup. At the moment they are a selling club – and selling clubs rarely win leagues or titles. Winning the Uefa Cup would help the bottom line and help them keep their star players.

This last part is vital because the likes of Harry Kewell and Alan Smith want to play in the biggest matches and Leeds need to be able to afford them as well as be offering them the grandest stage. Failure this season could see many big names following Rio Ferdinand out of the club. That will not happen if they do well in Europe now, finish high in the Premiership and secure a place in Europe next year.

Finally, Ipswich. Let me be honest. The Uefa Cup hindered us last year and our ambition now is very simple – promotion. We also need money and European matches provide that, but not as much as getting back in the Premiership would. If we are to succeed we need to win today in the derby against Norwich. I keep reading about their great start to the season and our average one, yet if we win today we will be three points behind them with two games in hand. Some 30,000 screaming East Anglians will create a superb atmosphere but it is three points that are valuable, not bragging rights.

A few years ago we were pushing for promotion and Norwich were mid-table but we lost to them. A fan harassed me the next week, and when I asked him how he felt about us being near the top he replied: "Don't care. I can't believe we lost to bloody Norwich."

Matt Holland, the Ipswich captain, was talking to Iain Fletcher

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