The Nations League looks to be for European national teams what the Champions League is to European clubs, but what do UEFA expect to bring to international football with this new competition? What are the real changes and consequences that come with it? According to UEFA, it will bring benefits for everyone.
Firstly, let’s take a look at why this competition has been created. According to UEFA statements on their official website, the main goal for the tournament is to improve levels of “quality and standing” in order to facilitate the “rejuvenation of national team football”. This should, in theory, tackle a longstanding problem in national football: the lack of competitiveness of friendly matches.
UEFA believes that this competition will provide further advantages through offering “the middle-ranking and smaller nations an extra way to qualify for UEFA Euro final tournaments”, whilst bigger national teams have the opportunity to play in “a new top-level event”.
It is also thought that the tournament will provide a chance for smaller teams to “learn and progress”. Something that doesn’t happen “by repeatedly losing” against teams with a “considerably higher” ranking in tournament qualification stages. This is where I would disagree with UEFA. The biggest challenges tend to bring the best out of teams, and learning from failure is arguably the most effective way to progress. Perhaps the best example of this would be the recent success enjoyed by Wales, who were semi-finalists at Euro 2016 – the first international tournament that the Dragons had qualified for since 1958.
Here, UEFA begins to contradict itself. Official statements note that “there will still be space in the calendar for friendlies, especially for top teams who may want to face opposition from outside Europe as they will be in groups of three teams” within the competition leagues. UEFA claims to want smaller nations to improve, yet it gives priority to traditionally bigger sides when it comes to friendly matches.
UEFA have also spoken about the advantages that the competition will bring for supporters, saying that “they will have the opportunity to see their teams playing in more competitive matches”.
Thankfully, for players and managers alike, the competition will not add to an already hectic schedule of domestic and national fixtures. In fact, the number of matches should diminish along with travels. Furthermore, with “double-header match-weeks, players will even go back to their clubs earlier than is currently the case”.
If this holds true, everyone will be happy. Managers of club sides – who already have enough problems with injuries due to the excessive number of matches their players have to play in one season; national coaches (mainly from highly ranked national teams) whose teams will play more competitive matches; and, of course, players.
You will notice that I forgot to include UEFA in this group. The sceptical among us will see the new competition merely as another way for the organisation to make money. UEFA denies this, but their justification is not convincing: “finances are not a driver for the new competition. However, the competition will have the same centralised media rights as have recently been introduced for all European Qualifiers so associations will have even more stability in their income”.
More stability in their income? In my view that means more money, but who am I to judge…
If you want to know more about this new competition and its format click here
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