The UEFA Europa League had its first official engagement of 2010/11 today, with European football's governing body confident the newly branded competition – entering its second season as successor to the UEFA Cup – had found a central place in the sporting calendar.
UEFA's belief in the new competition was conveyed to the 106 clubs present in Nyon, Switzerland, for the first and second qualifying round draws. In a welcome speech to the participating teams, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino looked back with satisfaction on an inaugural season he called "a great success" – and forward with optimism to the UEFA Europa League's 2010/11 campaign.
"This draw marks the second year of the new competition and we can wholeheartedly say the first year was a great success," Mr Infantino said. "We have had only positive feedback. The UEFA Europa League, with its new group stage format, with its new logo and brand identity, and with its fixed kick-off times in the TV schedule, has refound its place on the European sporting calendar and in the hearts of the fans.
"Together with the full backing of you, the clubs, the Europa League has become something of an overnight success."
The 106 teams involved in today's proceedings – 52 join the competition in the first qualifying round, 54 in the second – also have a high standard to follow on the field of play. "In terms of the football too the UEFA Europa League has delivered," the general secretary added. "Last year's final between Club Atlético de Madrid and Fulham FC in Hamburg was a great showcase for the competition in its first year."
In setting the scene for a fruitful second edition of the UEFA Europa League, Mr Infantino also asked the clubs to remember their responsibilities towards protecting the game's values. "Even though we are only in June, we ask you to carry the words of our Respect campaign with you into your forthcoming matches," he said. "Respect please for your opponents, for the fans and for the match officials."
The 2010/11 UEFA Europa League kicks off on 1 and 8 July when the two-legged first qualifying round ties take place. The second qualifying round follows on 15 and 22 July.