I was asked the other day what I made of the proposal for a “Nations’ League” of some sort. I can’t say I’ve had time to read the proposal in any detail, but the idea seems to be to have a scheduled set of friendlies between European countries split into divisions, with a play-off of some sort at the end (presumably in June).
In principle, I have heard of worse ideas. However, there are two big problems that immediately strike me.
Firstly, UEFA’s and FIFA’s main events – the European Championship and the World Cup – are already limited by the fatigue of many of the best players. Rarely do Messis or Ronaldos shine on the ultimate stage, for the quite simple reason that they are tired – after playing through the quest for the national league championship, the latter stages of the Champions’ League and an array of cup fixtures all of which probably began with a pre-season tour of the Far East or North America.
To be clear, it doesn’t matter how many zillions a week you pay players, you cannot possibly maintain a mental and physical peak 12 months a year for 15 years or so consecutively. We should in fact be trying to reduce competitive fixtures, not broaden them still further. If we want to see the best players performing at their best level at the best stage, we need fewer games before World Cups, European Championships and Champions’ League Finals, not more.
Secondly, the whole thing is bound to be a damp squib in any case (or alternatively it could in fact reduce the appeal of World Cups and European Championships, in the same way the FA’s takeover of England’s top league saw the reduction of the appeal of the FA Cup). Ultimately FIFA and UEFA can stick their noses in all they like, the fact is the clubs pay the players and poll and poll shows fans are more interested in their club than their country (this explains the relative success of the Champions’ League and the lack of interest in imposing restrictions on foreign players).
The trend is already established towards bigger countries playing bigger countries in “friendly weeks” (Germany-England, Spain-Italy and so on) and the likes of Northern Ireland being left with epic fixtures away to Cyprus and home to Malta. I suspect the final playoff series will attract the same interest as the World Club Championship. Remember that? Thought not…