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The inaugural UEFA Nations League has been rolled out for this year’s football season in what’s seen by UEFA as an attempt to increase the quality of the football amongst European nations, provide a regular format of international competition, and give opportunity for national teams to increase their ranking and increase prospects of reaching major tournaments.
In theory, this seems like an innovative idea which helps to keep the national teams accountable and increase the competitiveness of matches in between tournaments. The only alternative is using friendly matches as a way to keep national team morale afloat in the period between tournaments, and obviously the concept of a ‘friendly’ denotes any meaningfulness from the matches. The teams that win the friendlies gain no benefit other than experimenting with their team formations. With the UEFA Nations League you get the best of both worlds. The managers, at their own peril, can impose new strategies and tactics to their teams, whilst at the same time, giving them the opportunity to assert their stranglehold over their continental rivals. Therefore, what is the problem with the implementation of the UEFA Nations League?
Its imposition has been seen to be problematic for domestic league clubs, with many advocating for its abolition. This is with regards to the clashes it has with matches, meaning players have to leave to attend to international duties, and thus cause further disruptions to the domestic football calendar. There is already a substantial amount of football that the international players have to contend with. Most in this cohort have not only international duties, but they have the obligatory weekend league matches, and for a further privileged few, there is also the burden on weekday Champions League or Europa league matches to endure. This is a considerable amount of game time and travel to comprehend. This poses the risk of fatigue and drop in performance. Is the implementations of a UEFA Nations League really necessary in what it already a demanding football calendar?
Additionally, the structuring of the league seems to be quite complex. There are four leagues, yet the teams are split into four groups of three, with the bottom four teams in each group being relegated to the inferior league below. England, for instance, are in the same group as Spain and Croatia, whereas Belgium are joined by Switzerland and Iceland. Is it really fair that England, who have a higher ranking that Switzerland or Iceland, are more likely to be relegated? As a side note, England seem to be proving us doubters wrong but still the point must be made.
It is hoped, amongst the UEFA bureaucrats, that the new initiative will attract more supporters to international matches, as opposed to some of the dire attendances at lower-level nation games. Nevertheless, matches such as England v Croatia were played behind closed doors due to the subsequent actions of Croatia and their pitch being marked by a swastika against Italy back in 2016. Does this really inspire the players to play to their full potential?
Ultimately, this initiative at first sight does seem like a good idea. It would be more appealing to fans paying their hard-earned money to enjoy a competitive match where stakes are on the line, as opposed to an international friendly that has no implications for either side. However, the impetus of having a league means more matches to be played. International matches do not take the same amount of time and energy to plan. Having a competitive nations league amidst domestic league games can have serious implications for managers that are challenging for domestic honours, and the players that risk potential injury.