League to replace international friendlies?

UEFA is considering a radical overhaul of international football that would see national teams playing a new Nations League competition.

The idea, mooted at executive committee meetings that preceded a UEFA meeting in Dubrovnik last month, would see European football’s governing body using existing dates for friendlies in the international calendar to launch a new league involving all 54 member nations.

The Guardian reports that the idea was one of several suggested at the meeting as countries looked at ways to make international football a more attractive proposition.

Under the plans, all UEFA members would be divided into a series of perhaps nine divisions based on their recent results, with promotion and relegation following each round of matches.

The winner of the first division would be UEFA’S┬áNations League champion and win a cash prize, with the bottom team in each division being relegated in favour of the winner of the division below.

The Norwegian FA president, Yngve Hallen, who sits on UEFA’s national committee for international tournaments, said: “It is true that a series of games is one of the models being discussed.”

If the UEFA Nations League idea is developed, then the European governing body would be likely to look to centralise the TV and marketing rights in the same way as it has for the Champions League.

“The success of the Champions League has already inspired the Europa League. This is also something they are trying to look at in connection with the Nations League – how this can sharpen the market. That’s what this is largely about,” said Hallen.

“But there have been very clear political guidelines from all 54 federations that the focus needs to be on the football/competitive aspect. All countries should have equal opportunities,” he added.

“No-one should have to qualify for this tournament – everyone plays from the first game. And then there is also a recognition that tournament form should be easy to understand for most people. All this we need to work out.”

The Swedish FA representative Karl-Erik Nilsson told Aftonbladet that “it has been established that it is difficult to get interest around friendlies”.

“For 2020 it has been looked at whether it would be possible to combine traditional qualifiers with with this league format, instead of friendlies, to increase interest,” he said.

“It is worth looking at but we were clear that it can’t have an impact on the qualifiers for the Euro tournaments. The qualifiers are No1 and have the highest priority. There won’t be more international games because of this.”

He said the initial reaction among the 54 members was that “creating more interest is not something negative”.

Nilsson added: “All 54 members were in Croatia and the idea was presented from a perspective of: is this worth looking at? And the overall feeling was: ‘let’s look at it but don’t let it have an impact on the qualifiers’.”

With interest in friendly internationals at an all time low, the idea has some appeal. One wonders though, whether the likes of England or Spain would be prepared to write off the income they would lose from lucrative friendlies against the likes of Brazil and Argentina. If UEFA could guarantee them financial compensation, one would imagine they would.