It pains me to say that one of the things that most annoys me about modern day football is international football. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to every World Cup as much as the next fan. I usually watch at least 80% of the games of both the World Cup and the European Championship, and although the excitement levels are not as high for me as when I watch my club team play, I recognize the value of a great game being seen by hundreds of millions around the world.
What seriously irritates me is when international football encroaches on club football. All European leagues will be interrupted for international games three times in the first three months of next season. Just after the season begins there will be a break in top level club football on the weekend of 8/9 September, this will be followed by further breaks for internationals on the weekends of 13/14 October and 17/18 November. I know I am not the only one who finds these breaks frustrating. Watching an international game is not usually enough to feed my football addiction so the two weeks between “proper” matches can seem like an eternity.
So, what would I do about it? First, I’d try to find a way of reducing the number of international games that are played. In the qualifying stage for next summer’s European Championship there are 50 national teams competing for 14 places. As hosts, Austria and Switzerland have automatically qualified. The current format has the 50 teams divided into six groups of 7 and one group of 8, with the first two teams of each group qualifying. This means twelve qualifying games for most teams and fourteen for the teams in the eight-team group.
My suggestion would be to increase the number of groups so that each group had fewer teams and therefore fewer games. For example, to find 14 qualifiers from 50 teams, there could be ten groups of 4 teams (with one qualifier per group) and two groups of 5 (top two qualify), or alternatively it could be eight groups of 4 and six groups of 3 with only the top team from each group qualifying. Either way there would be fewer qualifying games for everyone. This would improve the qualifying matches themselves as each game would be that little bit more important and therefore more exciting. You could not draw 0-0 at home to Macedonia and expect to get another chance.
Another possible way of reducing the number of teams in the qualifying groups would be to have the lower ranking national teams play off against each other before getting the chance to play the bigger nations. These preliminary games could be played at the same time as the major tournaments, the players of Andorra and San Marino are not usually doing much during the World Cup. The downside of this, of course, would be for the players of the smaller nations who would not have the same chances to play against the world’s best, but if they are not good enough at club level why should they get the chance that so many English, French or Spanish players from lower leagues miss out on?
This season sees a further problem for the many clubs who will lose players for the African Nations Cup. Would it not be possible to play the European Championship, the Copa America and the African Nations Cup at the same time? Of course, the Copa America would only be played every four years, but it would give clubs and players more time to prepare for the real business of the club season.
Ultimately, fewer international matches would mean fewer irritating mid-season breaks in our beloved league season. Clubs would lose fewer players through injury on international duty, and fans would not find themselves being annoyed by international games which ought to represent football at its highest level.
Nig writes at the excellent Barca blog.