The UEFA Europa League evolved from the UEFA Cup, which itself was initially conceived by Switzerland's Ernst Thommen who, along with Italy's Ottorino Barrasi and England's Sir Stanley Rous, later FIFA President, had created a tournament for representative sides from European cities that regularly held trade fairs.
This forerunner to the UEFA Cup, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, was founded on 18 April 1955, two weeks after the founding of the European Champion Clubs' Cup. The first Fairs Cup involved teams from Barcelona, Basel, Birmingham, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Lausanne, Leipzig, London, Milan and Zagreb. The original tournament lasted three years, with matches timed to coincide with trade fairs. Barcelona, using players purely from FC Barcelona, beat a London representative side 8-2 on aggregate in the final.
For the second tournament the organisers reverted to club participation but the teams still had to come from cities staging trade fairs. Sixteen sides took part in the 1958–60 tournament, after which the competition was run on an annual basis. By 1962 the number of entrants had risen to 32; there are now over 100. In its early years, clubs from southern Europe dominated, notably Barcelona, who won it three times, and Valencia who prevailed twice. In 1968 Leeds United became the first northern European outfit to lift the trophy, heralding a run of six successive victories by English teams.
The fifth of these was in 1971/72, by Tottenham Hotspur, and the first to be known as the UEFA Cup. The change of name was recognition of the fact the competition was now organised by UEFA and no longer associated with the trade fairs. During the 1970s German, Dutch, Belgian and Swedish sides began to successfully compete with the English and between 1968 and 1984 only one team from the south – Juventus in 1977 – managed to disrupt the supremacy of the northern Europeans.
But following back-to-back triumphs by Real Madrid CF in the mid-1980s, Italian clubs took control in the 1990s. Starting with SSC Napoli's success in 1989, Italian sides landed the UEFA Cup eight times in eleven seasons, with Internazionale Milano winning it three times, before Galatasaray claimed it as Turkey's first European club prize in 2000. With the exception of 1964 and 1965, the final had, like the previous rounds, always been a two-legged, affair. The format changed permanently to a one-off final in 1998 when Inter beat Lazio 3-0 at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
From 1999/2000, domestic cup winners also qualified for the UEFA Cup after the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup was disbanded. In addition, teams eliminated from the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League and the eight third-placed finishers at the end of the latter tournament's group stage entered the competition. A group phase was introduced for the first time in 2004/05 involving 40 clubs playing four games apiece.
UEFA Europa League
Since 2009/10 the competition has been known as the UEFA Europa League, with the group stage expanded to 48 sides playing six matches on a home-and-away format similar to the UEFA Champions League. Atlético Madrid took two of the first three titles, sandwiching an Porto triumph, and that was followed by successes for Chelsea and Sevilla. From 2015 the winners gain entry to the following season's UEFA Champions League; Sevilla were the first to benefit with their record fourth coronation and they retained the trophy in 2016. Manchester United lifted it for the first time in 2017.
The trophy itself, which weighs 15kg and is silver on a yellow marble plinth, was designed and crafted by the Bertoni workshops in Milan for the 1972 final. It has no handles, its beauty lying in its simplicity. Just above the plinth, a group of players seem to be jostling for the ball. In fact they are supporting the octagonal cup which is emblazoned with the UEFA emblem.
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