UEFA are supposedly considering a ‘Nations League’ approach to future “non-competitive” international football matches – and I’m all for it.
Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet revealed that the European governing body are seriously considering scrapping international friendlies and replacing it with something that looks a lot like the Davis Cup, tennis’ premier tournament featuring countries. Unlike the Davis Cup, or the corresponding Fed Cup in women’s tennis, this is exclusively for us Europeans. None of those Argies or Yanks, right? Oh yes…
Well, why not? If this idea is going to ahead – several divisions competing in a league system that includes promotion and relegation – then why restrict it to Europe? Despite this continent containing the majority of the world’s footballing powerhouses, to leave out the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and even the USA would diminish a competition somewhat. After all, we already have the European Championships. Why do we need another national European competition?
UEFA seem to have recognised that problem and are already setting about ruining their noticeably longer-running tournament. Last week, advisers of UEFA boss Michel Platini discussed the possibility of some of the above South Americans, Mexico and Japan entering the European Championships. I’ll say that again – the European. Championships. As accommodating as I’d be towards a World League, we already have a World Cup so another global knockout cup is beyond pointless. With this speculation, as well as confirmation that Euro 2020 will be held in various locations across the continent, I believe that the people in power at UEFA have lost their minds.
They have got one thing right, though, with this potential Nations League. I can also see why they wouldn’t want the rest of the world involved – primarily because it’s UEFA’s idea, not FIFA’s thank you very much. Even if world football did get in on the action, the logistics would be a nightmare! Can you imagine the San Marino minnows travelling to the Caribbean to play the Turks and Caicos Islands, a team with which they share the bottom of the world rankings?
Even so, if the league format spread throughout the world with each organisation holding their own series of tournaments, what’s stopping FIFA enhancing the Davis Cup parallels and creating a ‘World Group’. For instance, should Spain win Division 1 of the inaugural UEFA Nations League, they would take their place the following season in the World Group, against the likes of Brazil, South Korea and, uh, Tahiti. Actually, considering this year’s so-so Confederations Cup, this idea may need a little bit of work.
So, where would our Home Nations fit into this scenario? Well, for a start, we can put to rest this silly idea of resurrecting the Home Nations Championship, as our nations will actually play teams more at their level. The Guardian article on this story suggests that England would be in the top group of six alongside Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Portugal. Despite their current ranking of 11th in Europe putting them closer to ties with Russia and Bosnia, playing against the best Europe has to offer could go one of two ways – England could raise their game and really show why many a deluded fan consider the Three Lions to be one of the best “bunch of lads” in the world. Or they could get massacred. Relegation to Division 2 or 3 would be a blessing in my eyes, allowing the FA to stop kidding themselves and do more than put together a commission. That’s for another day, though.
The future would look much bleaker for the other three British countries, as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have suffered torrid qualification campaigns for next year’s World Cup. Northern Ireland are in the worst position at 39th, and a six-per-group allocation would currently see them travel to the likes of Estonia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. A riveting prospect. An honourable mention must go to UEFA new boys Gibraltar, the tiny nation having to prove themselves against Liechtenstein, Andorra and the Faroe Islands. Boasting the smallest population in Europe, they’d struggle to not become the league’s whipping boys, something I never thought I’d say with San Marino in the picture. Even so, for all of these teams, regular competitive fixtures with each other may raise their game and give fans something to celebrate instead of the possibility of a 10-0 drubbing away from home.
I’ll need to stop the Davis Cup comparisons soon as Great Britain haven’t been well known for international success in recent years. Their promotion to the World Group in 2014 was mainly down to Andy Murray making himself available for the playoff (although the others did brilliantly to get there). Aside from Gareth Bale (who’s always injured anyway), no British side really has that stand-out player to keep their side in the top echelon of a Nations League.
In the end, these are still friendlies. Managers will experiment with their teams in preparation for important qualifiers. Come to think of it, aren’t the European qualifiers already a bit of a Nations League? Forgive my sudden rambling tangent, but performing well in these mini-leagues rewards more ranking points, which improves a team’s chance of getting seeded in future tournaments. It’s kind of like getting promoted, I guess. Although, in this case, “promotion” means more of a chance of playing Malta, less chance of playing France, so the jury’s out.
This blog’s gone on way too long and I’ve not really touched on the title – my bad. The Nations League is a great idea, a way of removing pointless friendlies and adding a little spice to neighbouring countries. All teams will benefit, from top teams playing each other frequently to the underdogs all getting the chance to better themselves in “Conference level” ties. It’s a no-brainer.