With the World Cup and European Championship already in place, European football now has a third major tournament to look forward to. UEFA have announced that they have approved the launch of a Nations League from 2018.
The exact format of the league is yet to be announced but it is expected to feature 54 countries split into several divisions according to their rankings, with promotion and relegation. There will also be qualification places for the 2020 European Championships on offer. UEFA president Michel Platini announced the new competition at a press conference and said it would replace friendlies that “nobody wants”. So that all sounds very positive, doesn’t it?
It is true that this will provide an interesting alternative to the friendly internationals. But the real reason this Nation’s League is going forward is because of the potential revenue from television rights. Europe’s leading nations were not happy when it was announced that the European Championships would expand to 24 teams. While it was great news for countries like Ireland, they felt it diluted the quality. What this really meant was they felt people might not want to pay to watch or tune in for England or France versus the lower tiers of European football. They have now been compensated with this “best versus best” competition.
Don’t get me wrong, the concept of the top nations in Europe battling it out in a League format does excite me and I’ll certainly be tuning in for those games but therein lies the problem – those games. The top flight will certainly deliver in entertainment value and financially, but how will this League of Nations affect the likes of Ireland? It’s no secret that in recent years, they have struggled to fill the Aviva Stadium. One thing they did benefit from was arranging “glamour friendlies” against the likes of Brazil, etc. Now, because of their low rankings in both Fifa and Uefa standings, they could be forced to play the likes of Norway, Slovakia and Turkey instead.
This can, and probably will, impact on a team’s competitiveness too. International friendlies have always offered the opportunity to test new players or give a lower ranked nation a chance to challenge their team against the best sides on the continent. Friendlies before major competition were arranged to tactically prepare your nation for games against similar teams in the group stages. Uefa have indicated that some allowances will be made to accommodate these kinds of friendlies but it’s looking like they will be rarity now. There is no doubt that the landscape of international football will change for many low-ranked European nations.
So while the Nations League is a mouth-watering prospect for both football fans and European football’s governing body, it might not be good for the sport.
Donal Lucey, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland (prezydent.pl) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.