What a hotly contested top four this Premier League season is going to see.
When Baku hosted Qarabag vs Arsenal in the UEFA Europa League group stages last year there were already questions about how the city would be able to host the Europa League Final with flying colours. Fast forward to May 2019 and those questions are still mostly unanswered.
Holding approximately 68,000 seats, the Baku Olympic Stadium’s capacity is bigger than the stadiums of the EPL’s top six sides bar Manchester United’s Old Trafford, yet finalists Arsenal and Chelsea have been given only a combined 12,000 seats altogether.
UEFA’s ‘justified’ reason for allocating just over 15 per cent of tickets to the two fans are because Baku airport cannot handle so many fans coming in so rapidly. It’s a European final and a London derby, not to mention that a Champions League spot is up for grabs for Arsenal. The Gunners have around 45,000 season ticketholders, and for a tiny fraction to be given the chance to go is disrespectful to not only to the club but to their fans as well.
Talking of fans, flights to Baku are hard enough to get directly from London, with only one direct flight to Baku per day. The sudden higher demand for those direct flights has now inflated flight prices. Even then, many fans are going to have to fly from London to cities like Istanbul, Munich or Frankfurt to catch a connecting flight. UEFA have shown zero regard for those who keep football afloat – the fans – and should be working a lot harder to ensure travelling to Baku wouldn’t be so difficult for the average fan.
UEFA’s reason for giving Baku the right to host the Europa League final over Istanbul and Seville was to make it more inclusive for other European nations. Henrikh Mkhitaryan probably nearly died of laughter reading that statement. The reason? Armenians are banned from entering Azerbaijan for political reasons. So much for inclusivity. Mkhitaryan didn’t travel to Baku for Arsenal’s group stage game against Qarabag, and it is becoming increasingly likely he won’t travel for the final. UEFA have said they can’t guarantee his safety in Azerbaijan. What a joke.
Sport should never be influenced by politics – even though it has so many times. Is UEFA not doing enough because Mkhitaryan is Armenian? Let’s say Belgians or Germans were banned from entering Azerbaijan – UEFA would’ve worked their backsides off to ensure players like Eden Hazard and Mesut Ozil would be allowed to play.
The Europa League final should be a celebration of two managers who have taken their sides to a European final in their first season. If Chelsea win, it’ll be Maurizio Sarri’s first trophy as manager. If Arsenal win, Unai Emery will have won his fourth Europa League as manager. Instead it has been overshadowed by all these controversies.
If UEFA really wanted to make it inclusive, they would ensure the hosting city could actually handle fans and players being able to come in before giving them the right to host the final.
The solution to this? Host it in Sydney. Honestly, at least our airport can handle fans entering the city – not to mention the many Arsenal and Chelsea fans already living in Australia. Friday, 31 May, with an 8pm kick-off at ANZ Stadium.
Jokes aside, let’s hope the final is a cracker and Mkhi is able to travel without trouble.