International football has taken over from domestic football for the past 10 days, and there seems a growing number of football fans who do not like when their seasons are interrupted. Could it be that international football has simply grown tired, and that the football in many ways feels like it is taking something from the more exciting domestic fixtures.
Normally international games break up the traditional leagues in Europe 3 times a season. In October, November and March, which means that for 30 days in a season there is no domestic football.
Friendly games have rubbed up for fans the wrong way for some time. Whilst the advantage of such games means that fans can see some of the best players in the world and exciting fixtures, they really offer very little in return. In truth you are watching a training exercise- does it matter if your team beat Brazil, Germany or Argentina? It’s just a friendly.
Thankfully the large bulk of friendly games have been replaced by competitive games and yet despite an extra competition being introduced by UEFA friendly games remain a constant fixture. Clubs loathe them because their players can get injured on international duty, even if they get injured at a World Cup that is bad news, but getting injured for a game that means nothing just seems pointless.
So UEFA introduced the Nations League- this could have been more welcomed if it had put an end to the friendly round of games, but of course it hasn’t. Witness how England had to play Republic of Ireland days before a crunch tie in the Nations League against Belgium- what purpose did the game against Ireland serve? Some could argue that it gave England manager Gareth Southgate a clearer view of the qualities of his players going into the Belgium game- one could counter that argument and say that after being in the job for four years he should have a clue what his best team line up is.
The Nations League seemed like a decent idea, but at the same time one has to wonder if it ever was? The complexes of the group stage can leave many an adult dumbfounded by all the rules- and not every team can qualify for the knock out stages that goes straight to the semi-finals. Though if you play well in this competition it can help for European and World Cup qualifications. There are groups in the Nations League where even if you win all of your games, because you are not a band A team, your competition still ends at that point. And so on.
But even if the Nations League was a straight group games and knockout competition- it just feels like one more competition for already tired players, who have a full on schedule in their domestic leagues. Remember the bulk of these players are going to be their best in their countries, which means they will be playing for the best sides who are going for the trophies.
Until it actually gets to the final the Nations League doesn’t seem very important at all. Are current holders Portugal remembered for winning it in its first year or will that team be more remembered for winning Euro 2016 instead? England have just been knocked out in the group stages of the Nations League as they lost 2-0 to Belgium, and yet the media that are always ready to crucify England managers simply haven’t dedicated column inches to their demise. Could you imagine the stories that would have been generated had England crashed out of the group stages of the Euro’s or World Cup? Manager Southgate would be packing his bags now.
Another example is the recent Spanish victory over Germany, where Spain beat them 6-0. It is a groundbreaking result until you learn it happened in the Nations League- it will be forgotten in a few weeks time by everyone outside of Spain and Germany.
Football can feel very over saturated and with UEFA adding another tournament in a calendar which can only run 12 months just feels like over kill. Take in mind that there is actually very little difference between the Nations League and the European Championships, and both competitions will clash next year.
The Nations League final was scheduled for June 2021, but has been pushed back to October. This means that teams who have made the semi-finals of the Nations League will be waiting almost 1 year to get to a final. It also means that UEFA of course recognise that the Euro’s are more important, they keep their original summer outing with the Nations League being pushed back. Also what happens if Germany win the Euro’s and a few months later Spain win the Nations League? Who will care truly? and who will believe that Spain are the best nation in Europe if they don’t win (the big one at the Euro’s)?
So what is the solution, as international fixtures have to co-exist with domestic football? One would be only having international fixtures as a means to qualifying for the respective summer tournaments that are coming up. Whilst some fans may love the idea of the Nations League one has to wonder if long time if it can work alongside all of the other competitions. So it may be best to end it- remember we have 2 international competitions that take place every 2 years to determine the best international teams- why do we need 3?
If UEFA insist on friendly games, because TV money is hard to turn down and when fans are allowed back into stadiums, it is easy gate receipt money, then these need to be limited. Possibly in the summer only, although this would be tricky in a World Cup or Euro’s year. The other possibility would be having them take place over a 10 day period but just once a season.
It is very important that domestic football takes place first and foremost with that in mind. International football can be very exciting at times, but with disjointed teams and players not being able to gel with one another like in club football it also means that international standard can drop, which means that us, the viewer, doesn’t get the very best product on show. It would be beneficial if UEFA could think through their schedules, because the current one seems painfully wrong.