ROBERT Louis Stevenson must have foreseen the modern-day UEFA Cup when he wrote: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”
(A rare example there of the word “hopefully” being used in the correct context, you’ll notice.)
Without specifically picking out Bolton, the effort Premier League clubs put into qualifying for the UEFA Cup generally seems far greater than the enjoyment they get of the competition when they make it.
In England, the UEFA Cup has more of an appeal in theory than in practice. It’s a means of keeping the Premier League season alive when you’re trying to qualify for it; it’s an inconvenience that forces you to play half your league games on a Sunday when you get there.
You want proof? Two words: Intertoto Cup. A competition that was once a summer filler tournament has now become almost as important as the UEFA Cup, despite the fact that its format has been messed around with to the point that it now has 11 winners a season. (I’m not sure what they do for a trophy. I suspect UEFA just send each winning team a certificate instead.)
The prospect of the Intertoto Cup is keeping Blackburn’s season alive, now that the Champions League and the UEFA Cup have faded into the distance. As a result, manager Mark Hughes has spent the week doing lots of complicated mathematical equations ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Tottenham.
Well, OK, he’s spent a bit of time staring at a league table trying to figure out how many points his team need to finish seventh – which is where they are at the moment.
He said: “We have been trying to do the maths but there are a lot of permutations and things will go right to the last week, I’m sure. But seventh would probably do it.
“We are in and around that area now but we have got some difficult games coming up.
“If we come through the next three games and we are still in this position – seventh or eighth – then we have got games towards the end of the season that we would be in decent shape to win and get maximum points from.
“If we can come through these three games with a good points tally, from then we will be very much in the show.”
I could try to explain how finishing seventh might be enough for an Intertoto Cup place, if I was certain that whichever team got it would show more enthusiasm for a European campaign than Bolton did this season. Maybe they will. I hope they do.
But it’s probably just as well that the Intertoto Cup is to be abolished in 2009, because it seems as if the treasure is barely worth the chase.