Midfielder says Europa League is a 'big competition with big teams in it' before Spurs' quarter-final first leg against Basel
Scott Parker pondered the question that, in many respects, has come to separate the heart from the head at Tottenham Hotspur and is the big teaser at the business end of the season. What would he rather do: win the Europa League or qualify for the Champions League? The England midfielder believes it is tough to decide and he looked to wriggle clear by saying that he wants both, which speaks for his indefatigable spirit if not quite the spirit of the debate.
André Villas-Boas has also maintained since becoming manager last summer that the two ought to be regarded as achievable goals. With Tottenham preparing for a Europa League quarter-final, first leg at home to Basel on Thursday night and lying third in the Premier League, he may be proved correct. Yet in terms of what would taste the sweeter, what would be the most cherished in the years ahead, when stories to grandchildren enter the equation, Parker was clear and even Villas-Boas appeared to waver from the party line. If football is about romance and glory, then Tottenham lifting the Europa League trophy in Amsterdam on 15 May could not be topped.
"As a player, I can see that argument 100%," Parker said. "As a player, there is nothing more rewarding than going to a final and lifting a trophy but we knew at the outset what we needed to do this season. So we'll probably look to take both.
"Of course, for me personally, a trophy would be something to look back on more. I was at Chelsea when we won the league and Carling Cup [in 2004-05] so I saw what those days do for the fans and for your family, as well. I was injured for the final but I went along so I have some sort of understanding of how good those days are. I'd love to be part of them again."
That Parker played only a peripheral role in Chelsea's first double due to injury further fires him. He made only four appearances in the league, which was not enough to qualify him for a medal and, although the club cast him a replica, he prizes it so little that he says he does not know where it is. The Carling Cup felt slightly different, as he started in the first three rounds, but when Parker tots up the official medal haul from his 16-year career, it extends no further than the old division one title with Charlton Athletic in 2000 and the Intertoto Cup with Newcastle United in 2006.
"I know for a fact that every one of us in that changing room wants to go on and try to win something," Parker said. "The Europa League is a big competition, with big teams in it, and if you win it, you've done bloody well."
Attitudes in England towards the Europa League tend to be a little condescending, as though the tournament is marooned in some sort of hinterland, charged purely with distracting teams from the serious domestic business and not fit to share the same airspace as the more handsome and prosperous Champions League.
Europe's elite competition has become the ideal to be chased at all costs, with membership perpetuating a cycle involving glamorous stages, money and status, plus star players, who want each of the aforementioned. Tottenham had a wild adventure on their involvement in 2010-11, when they reached the quarter-finals and it served to whet the appetite, not least in the financial department, although the Premier League's incoming £5bn collective TV deal would appear to put even Champions League revenues in the shade.
Tottenham have prioritised readmission via league position but Villas-Boas's pursuit of the Europa League has been refreshing. Were he to fall short on both fronts, the demands of Europe's second-tier tournament would surely be blamed, and yet it is possible to construct a case for Tottenham's league form so far owing much to their seriousness in the Europa League. It helped the players, initially, to become familiar with Villas-Boas's match-day methods and it has since served to build mentality and momentum. Villas-Boas made the point on Wednesday that the knockout-phase victories over Lyon and Internazionale had been invaluable experiences for the future that they hope to shape.
Tottenham fans of particular vintages will always remember the Uefa Cup triumphs of 1972 and 1984, and it is questionable whether the Champions League campaign of two seasons ago, albeit one that was extremely enjoyable, will stand the same test of time. Context is key, and it should also be noted that Tottenham have won only one FA Cup and two League Cups since 1984.
"Your league position always dictates the success of a season," said Villas-Boas, who reported that the striker Jermain Defoe was out for two weeks with an abdominal tear. "But winning trophies is also tremendously important. Chelsea finished sixth last season but it was totally overshadowed by the fact they won two trophies, including the biggest in the world [the Champions League] and so it was deemed a successful season."