Picture the scene.
It is May 2016 and Crystal Palace have just beaten Southampton 14-0 at St Marys’ to finish sixth, just above Leicester City on goal difference. Jubilation in the stands as Palace fans realise that the club has qualified for the Europa League by virtue of champions Manchester City winning the Capital One Cup.
Palace are in Europe!
It is difficult not to think about the prospect with Palace flying so high. Despite the positive prediction displayed above, I am usually pessimistic when it comes to Palace and fully expect us to drop down the table at some point.
What if we didn’t?
If Leicester falter, if Klopp cannot galvanise Liverpool and if Chelsea’s form does not pick up, it is slightly possible that we might sneak in. For sixth place to be worthy of a Europa League spot, a team that finishes in the top four has to win one of the domestic cups. If a top four team wins both, it extends to seventh place which makes the propostion of European football under the lights at Selhurst Park even more tantalising.
The chance to play European giants such as Valencia and Napoli, who are in this seasons competition, in competitive circumstances would be a dream come true. Therefore, the Europa League has to be the target, right?
Well, not necessarily. It is a huge burden on the squad having to play Thursday and then Sunday. If you are playing Borussia Dortmund followed by Manchester United, I am sure the players could rely on adrenaline to pull them through but often this is not the case and you end up playing away to an Estonian minnow followed by West Bromwich Albion.
This can result in poor performances when you do not have the squad strength of clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, and even when you do, it can still backfire as seen by their loss to Newcastle United on Sunday. There is no doubt that if we took the Europa League seriously then our league position would plummet. Our squad is probably the best it has ever been but it would still need a major overhaul if we were to compete both in the league and Europe.
There is even a chance that Palace could be relegated if we cannot deal with the dynamics of the Europa and Premier League hybrid. Is it worth reaching the group stages of the Europa League to see results, and consequently morale, suffer and Palace to go back into the Championship? Of course not. This is the worst case scenario, and it could be that Palace go on a run like Fulham managed, reaching the final and maintaining a respectable league finish. The reality is that it is impossible to predict, and if it was up to me, I would not take the chance.
Furthermore, it puts our best players in the shop window. The Premier League is very well watched and there are scouts from all sorts of clubs at matches, but if players like Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha started showing their form from the Premier League in Europe, we will start receiving bids that we cannot turn down, and we lose our most cherished personnel. The only way we would keep them is if we qualified for Europe again and the chances of that are very slim realistically. If we continue to sprinkle talent like Yohan Cabaye in the team to complement our current crop of players, we can fully establish ourselves as a top ten Premier League side. The Europa League would quicken this process but it could also destroy it if it goes wrong.
The sum of our progress over the last five years has to amount to some tangible glory eventually, and I never thought I would be turning down the chance of Europe. I look at clubs like Tottenham, who are perennial contenders in the tournament without really getting anywhere, and think ‘why aren’t you taking this more seriously?‘ when they play a weakened side. There is no chance of relegation for them and they could conceivably win it. For Palace, it is just different. We are not at Tottenham’s level yet, and the progress that I mentioned could be jeopardised in one season.
If we did manage to reach Europe this year, I am sure many Palace fans summer holiday would be dictated by the draw, and it would be a great experience all round, whoever we got. However, I would not mind narrowly missing out on the Europa League this season and continue in the same vein in the transfer market next summer and push next season. There may never be a better chance for Palace to get it, but I honestly do not think it is worth it, just yet.
Now, if Manchester United continue to implode and Palace reach the Champions League at their expense, then we can start talking.