UEFA wishes to rid international football of friendly matches, but is the proposed League of Nations the solution?
Europe will have a second national teams competition from 2018 after the Nations League gained unanimous support from UEFA’s 54 national associations at Congress in Astana, Kazakhstan.
However a great deal of discussion and explanation will be essential to persuade fans that the European calendar is not being thrown up in the air without enough thought about how it will come back down.
Justifying the change, European federation president Michel Platini said the Nations League would replace friendly matches in the international calendar because “no-one likes friendlies, not the national associations, not the journalists, not the audience at large – nobody wants these friendlies.”
National teams will be divided into four divisions with a slot at the 2020 European Championship finals offered to a team from each section.
Platini was unable to clarify specifics about the tournament, insisting that “in a few years’ time maybe I’ll have an answer.”
General secretary Gianni Infantino said clubs should not fear any diminution of income from the Champions League or Europa League.
He added: “In terms of revenue there is no worry about the top competitions. We’ve seen already with the centralisation of TV rights for the national team qualifying competition so for the club competitions it’s not a problem.”
Infantino also pointed out that clubs should benefit from playing national team football exclusively in Europe and not further afield “so they will not be exhausted from intercontinental trips for friendly matches.”
Platini was not concerned that the Nations League would be damaged almost from the outset by calendar complications if the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar were switched from a summer to a winter date.
He said: “We’ll adapt ourselves to the calendar of the World Cup. I’m not sure when it will take place but obviously our heads of department will work with the European associations to organise our competitions with respect to that date.”
A statement from UEFA said the priority of the Nations League was to “improve the quality and standard of international football.”
Countries will be allocated into divisions according to coefficient rankings and will compete, with promotion and relegation, to move between groups or to become the UEFA Nations League champions and to qualify for EURO play-offs.
In a further complication ahead of Euro 2020, each group will be subdivided into four pools of three or four teams so each team will play four to six matches between September and November 2018.
The final four competitions, involving the four pool group winners of group A, will start in 2019, whereas the Euro play-offs will take place in March 2020.
National teams will thus either be competing to become UEFA Nations League champions or be fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation in their groups, as well as to qualify for the Euro play-offs.
Qualifying for the European Championship remains largely the same although qualifying will now begin in the March following a major tournament instead of immediately in September, with four teams qualifying for each final tournament via the UEFA Nations League.
Wolfgang Niersbach, chairman of the national teams competition committee, welcomed the decision, saying: “We accept and respect that all UEFA member associations have agreed to create a new competition.
“This is a big step for national teams in Europe and we hope that fans will support the new format.”