London derby, 5 goals, European Final, should be a classic right? Wrong. Baku shambles proves that UEFA aren't in it for the fans

An unforgettable night in Baku - for all the wrong reasons

Wednesday night was supposed to be something special. The Europa League Final. A competition that features some of the best teams in Europe. A final which saw two English sides progress to the final in Chelsea and Arsenal.

These London derbies are often intense, pulsating affairs but instead what we saw was something completely different. UEFA delivered a disasterclass in how to host a major final, with Baku's Olympic Stadium, Azerbaijan the venue in question.

We've all read the headlines since these two great football clubs booked their spot in the final three weeks ago. The absolutely shambolic ticket allocation of 6000 per team in a 68k capacity stadium, the lack of an infrastructure for tourism and of course the absence of Arsenal man Henrikh Mkhitaryan who had to miss out for political reasons.

Arsenal fans
Only 5000 based UK fans managed to make it over to Baku, a disgrace for a European final

Negativity has never surrounded a major cup final like this in the modern of the era game, but to watch the events unfold on Wednesday night gave us a scary insight into what UEFA want from the game. They don't care about the fans, their interests or how much money and time it takes them to follow their teams.

UEFA are all about the sponsors, the corporate side of the game, they're the ones that pump the money in and they're the ones that they want to keep happy. They were given a huge amount of tickets for the Baku final, which is also the case in Madrid on Saturday for the Champions League final. Football without the fans is nothing and UEFA are excluding them more and more from these big occasions.

I mean imagine travelling all over to follow your team this season, going all over the continent in the Europa League to place like BATE Borisov or Malmo. Your side make it to the final after you've spent all that time and money, only to be denied attending the big one by a greedy, inconsiderate governing body - it's an absolute farce.

Binoculars required

Right there's a number of reasons why last nights final needs to be talked about, so let's kick things off. Baku's Olympic Stadium was the venue for this game. A stadium with a capacity around the 68k mark, you'd think it would be worthy enough to house an event like this right?

First of all, both clubs were given just 6000 tickets each. 6000 for a major cup final. This meant that the bulk of the stadium was going to be full of sponsors or spectators with no real interest in either side, what an event. It's believed that just 5000 UK based supporters managed to make it over there, which took a huge amount of effort and money to do so. Massively disappointing for them.

Added to that, the fans who did somehow manage to get a ticket and get over there, they would've needed to have packed their binoculars as they were miles away from the action on the pitch. We're not a fan of stadiums with tracks around the edges as it just keeps the fans further away from the action and this was the case for those fans who ventured over from the UK.

But to be fair to the tournaments organiser, they did allow the fans who travelled over to get value for money. Football is often referred to as a game of two halves, but this one was a game of two days. The 11pm kick-off time meant that the game didn't actually finish until the early hours of Thursday morning... The final insult to them from UEFA.

UEFA obviously didn't know when they were planning the 2019 Europa League final that two teams from England and in fact the same city would qualify for it. But despite this Baku should never have been selected. European footballs governing body wants to grow the game all over the continent which is great, but selecting a venue for the sake of that is just wrong.

A host city for a major final needs to have the correct infrastructure for tourism, a suitable stadium, good transport links etc. Baku is the opposite. The city's airport, Heydar Aliyev International, is believed to be able to cope with around 15k visitors. This is thought to have had an impact on UEFA's ticketing strategy but if you can't cater for the fans in the first place, then how can you host the game in the first place?

This is surely one of the most important pieces of criteria required when looking for an appropriate venue, which makes it all the more bizarre that Baku won the vote ahead of Seville and Istanbul. Two cities built for tourism, built to cope with demand. These would've been much more fan friendly, popular, sensible choices. Instead we got a city that isn't accessible from London. It took the few fans that did travel days to get there, costing a shed load of money in the process.

Where does this leave UEFA?

Wednesday nights game was a real low point for UEFA. This was meant to be one of the events of the season and what they delivered was a huge anticlimax - even bigger than Game of Thrones season 8. Usually when a game provides five goals and has two quality teams like Chelsea and Arsenal you'd think it would be a classic, but what we were given felt like one of those high profile pre-season friendlies you see over in American or Asia.

They feared this happening when the news around the allocations and travel disruptions became public knowledge, which led to huge amounts of tickets being made available to locals in order to boost the numbers. UEFA claimed that there was around 55k in attendance, but the sheer number of empty seats suggest otherwise. For the majority of the 90 mins the stadium was deafly silent. Anyone who follows either club will know just how passionate both sets of supporters so the lack of an atmosphere really took away from the game. No noise, not even able to see the action, hats off to UEFA for this one...

Europa League Final Baku
It felt more like the International Champions Cup or the Premier League Asia Trophy, not the Europa League. Dreadful set-up, dreadful atmosphere, a real shame.

But it wasn't just the tens of thousands of fans who had to miss out on the final, Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan had to sit this one out at home due to fears over his own safety. Political tensions have been high between Azerbaijan and his home nation Armenia which meant an important first teamer had to sit out. Imagine if it was Barcelona in this situation and Lionel Messi had to sit out - would the game still go ahead?

So all-in-all, a game which could've been remembered for being something special. Potentially Eden Hazard's last game, Maurizio Sarri's first piece of silverware, has been overshadowed by the ridiculous planning and decision making of one of the games major governing bodies.

UEFA have to move on from this but we all know how they work, they will continue to suit the sponsors and corporate side of the game which pumps the money in. Bizarrely Baku has been selected as one of the host cities for Euro 2020 and despite this absolute fiasco, they remain intent on keeping it for next years competition. Ridiculous, but are we really that surprised?


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