In this modern era of professional football where the stakes have never been higher and the pressure to succeed in top class football never greater, what is the future for the international friendly match?
With an already congested fixture list and the potential of injury for many established international players the very least that needs to be done is an investigation into the effectiveness of such games. Let’s face it, what value does any of us as players, coaches, managers or fans place on these games? A fine win for an England side against say Spain or Germany is still quite an achievement but everyone would mostly think ‘Yes, but it’s only a friendly with nothing at stake’ or ‘they weren’t playing against a full strength team’.
Of course, this is a chance to try new formations and test new caps or fringe players but in reality, these are the only plus points. For many Premier League managers it simply serves no purpose and they are seen as a distraction.
So what is the alternative? There is still a need for international teams to play regularly but how about every game meaning something? What if every game meant points? And I don’t mean the confusing and inaccurate FIFA points ranking either, I mean a good old fashioned 3 points for a win.
Well the proposal is this, a complete restructure of the international football scene where in the case of UEFA and its 53 member countries, a league system is introduced. The 53 countries, based on current ranking would be divided into seven divisions of seven or eight teams where a Division A would contain the likes of Spain, Germany, Portugal right down to Division G where the likes of Malta, Cyprus and the Faroe Islands would go toe to toe.
In the current set up international teams play between 10 – 14 matches per year including friendlies and competitive games. If you average that to 12 per year or one per month, this is what the proposal would be for the new system. Imagine a seven team international European premier division where every country plays each other home and away in the space of one season or calendar year. It would mean twelve meaningful and top quality matches where at the end of the season you have a true European champion.
In the case of all the divisions below there is a chance of promotion or relegation, so the likes of Malta can actually progress into the next division and see themselves rise through the ranks in a fair way. The current seeding system for European or World Cup qualifying is outdated and jaded because how many times do we see the likes of Germany winning every qualifier they play whilst thrashing a hapless minnow 7-0 in the process. What is the point? There is no benefit for the victors or the victims really. The seeding system makes it virtually impossible for a small nation to progress whilst at the same time keeping the big countries at the top. This status quo breeds a stagnancy which is not healthy for the game.
The new structure would give hope to many small nations whilst also creating a very attractive European super league that everyone would want to watch. Imagine the likes of Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, England, France and Portugal playing against each other every month for points to become champions of Europe. Also envisage the scramble at the top of Division B as The Netherlands and Croatia go head to head to gain promotion to the top echelon.
The same can be said for all divisions with equal and fair opportunity for nations to progress in a measured way. The international window of games would not change; it would just mean games of meaning are always played.
This scenario may seem a long way off but those in power know that things need to change in order to keep the game fresh. The obvious question on people’s minds will be ‘What about the Euro’s’ and World Cup qualifiers’ but this will be discussed in the next edition. In the meantime can you give yourself a reason why this couldn’t work?