When the Europa Conference league launched in 2021, it was largely ridiculed. In many quarters, it still is.
This tournament isn’t the premier European football competition. It’s not even second best.
Cynics call it a ploy by UEFA to squeeze yet more money from the beautiful game. They’re probably right. European football’s governing body aren’t exactly known for their virtues.
And this is a tournament that has many dozens of teams, and gives a chance to teams finishing nearly halfway down their domestic leagues to play in a prestigious European competition.
It’s been claimed some clubs even try to avoid qualifying in order to keep the next season’s fixture list under control. After all, going to Qarabag and back isn’t a recipe for success in a big league game 48 hours later.
But the Europa Conference league offers something else. There’s a chance for glory, for teams that dare not dream to place their hands on a European trophy.
Far more than that though is the excitement, the exploration, the portals into other places and other cultures. Teams, fans, and communities that would probably never encounter each other in any other situation - suddenly come together.
Whether a sleeping giant or an ambitious upstart, who wouldn’t want the chance to take a trip into the unknown?
The beautiful game is often far from beautiful, but the Europa Conference League might just offer a taste of that true romance.
From Poznań, to Alkmaar, Larnaca to Lazio.
Sivasspor to Sheriff, Cluj to Trabzonspor.
Braga to Florence, Belgrade to West Ham.