International Football: A Problem To Which There Are No Solutions
Like most of us, Arsène is frustrated by the international break. Clubs have long fought with Uefa and Fifa over the timing of these fixtures, the outcome is generally tinkering around the edges with grand notions such as playing on a Friday and Tuesday deemed to be a solution. Throughout the ages of football, visionaries are few and far between; if that is the level of thought at the top of the game, we are as far away as ever.
Arsène does not have the solution, perhaps knowing that the answer is going to be ‘centric’ depending upon from which continent it emerges. Moving tournaments to fit with the European Summer is no doubt a money-driven decision, disrespecting local climates and environments. Do these solutions involve investing money in the infrastructure to assist? Not unless there is a World Cup coming and even then it is a case of ‘We have turned you into a momentary tax haven; we have invested £xm into your sports stadia. Now we are gone and you are on your own‘.
The governing bodies and national associations do not help themselves. Unless there are qualifiers for a sanctioned tournament, Fifa’s designated international weeks do not require a friendly to take place. Other than financial gain, there is no necessity for any country to play a friendly fixture. Ever. I am sure that the FA will tell you that there are reasons of football politics behind some matches. If that is the case, I would suggest the FA think again because their politicking does not work.
As with everything in football, vested interests override any logical resolution. Let’s not beat about the bush, the clubs are no better at organising the domestic game than Fifa are at the world game. Problems domestically are just a microcosm of those which haunt any Swiss hideaway.
Sandro Rosell briefly showed some sanity in the asylum. He observed that the Spanish league needed to decrease its numbers to 18 teams and then 16. The former total is a long-term aim of Fifa and Uefa for top flights across the world and there is sense in that except the governing bodies want to fill the gap with internationals which defeats the object.
Rosell was honest about his rationale: money. According to El Presidente, if the clubs play fewer games, they can reduce their wages bill. Who is he kidding? “And so Lionel, we are playing 4 games less this year so you will earn £1m less. OK?” is going to be met with “Manchester City are offering £10m more, bye!!!!!!!!!!“.
Rosell knows he has flagged a red herring (nicely mixed metaphor, don’t you think) and in the world of weekly wages, even he is aware of the fundamental flaw in his plan. It is a quick peg upon which the bigger clubs can hang their hats to bully their smaller brethren into submission. It is either that or the European Super League becomes a reality and domestic revenues drop accordingly.
The two issues do provide a gateway to the solution. One domestic cup competition is sufficient; if the Football League want to keep their competition, so be it but Premier League clubs should be allowed to opt out. Reduce the size of the Premier League, keep the Championship at 24 teams and regionalise the rest will ease overcrowding and costs. This is nothing new. As the Football Association and League wrestled with the advent of European club competitions in the mid-1950s, Bristol Rovers proposed exactly that set-up as a blueprint for a healthy and competitive game. Back to the future, indeed.
That would dovetail with necessary changes at international level. The August fixtures are being dropped under a recent agreement with the European Clubs Association. Competitive games need to be taken a stage further. The proliferation of countries as independence is fought and won means that more countries enter the ‘Football Family‘, as Uncle Sepp likes to call it. That means more games.
The only solution to this ‘overcrowding’ is a two tier qualifying tournament. Pre-qualifiers and then full-scale qualifiers with all involved. To get to a World Cup or continental championship could be reduced to one year of matches spread over the two-year period. Limiting friendlies to November, March with no more than three between the end of the season and mid-June creates sufficient revenues for the national associations. If not, the clubs can pay a levy to ensure that the grassroots of the game do not suffer.
And that is before we address the vast reserves and bloated administrations at Fifa, Uefa and their cousins.
It all boils down to money and the current breed of club owners are adept at making more. If it is distributed a little differently, the destructive feuding between club and country would be over.