Keir Radnedge Na­tions League a suc­cess

World Soccer - - Contents - Keir RADNEDGE

UEFA was de­lighted with the pos­i­tive start to the Na­tions League. Fans, coaches and play­ers quickly grasped the con­cept of leagues within leagues, while the com­pet­i­tive el­e­ment en­sured a sig­nif­i­cant up­grade from a cat­a­logue of mean­ing­less friendlies.

The creation of the Na­tions League also laid an added team-build­ing sig­nif­i­cance across those friendlies which com­pleted the in­ter­na­tional-break cal­en­dar in Septem­ber.

Crowds were good, with a ca­pac­ity 67,000 watch­ing Ger­many share a goal­less draw with France and 81,392 wit­ness­ing Eng­land lose 2-1 to a re­vi­talised Spain.

UEFA pres­i­dent Alek­sander Ce­ferin says: “The World Cup showed that there is a huge ap­petite for na­tion­al­team foot­ball. UEFA has al­ways been aware of this and of the fact that na­tional-team foot­ball needs more than bi­en­nial sum­mer show­cases.

“Sup­port­ers re­alise that most friendlies fail to de­liver com­pet­i­tive and mean­ing­ful foot­ball. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween club and na­tional-team foot­ball needed re­bal­anc­ing.

“That was the think­ing be­hind the UEFA Na­tions League.”

Of course, those two in­ter­na­tion­als in Mu­nich and Lon­don would have pulled in the fans even as friendlies, but such non-com­pet­i­tive match-ups are rare. Also, what­ever Ce­ferin may think about the pop­u­lar­ity of na­tion­al­team foot­ball, the ma­jor­ity of qual­i­fy­ing ties for both the World Cup and the Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onship are yawn­ingly and repet­i­tively un­bal­anced and re­ced­ingly at­trac­tive.

The Na­tions League launch can only have en­cour­aged FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino in his am­bi­tion to de­velop the con­cept at a world­wide level, and he will be cheered on by Ar­gentina, Brazil and Uruguay as the South Amer­i­can sides all fear a drop in in­come from the loss of lu­cra­tive friendly matches in Europe.

CONMEBOL’s star trio like their Eu­ro­pean dates not just for the money but also for player avail­abil­ity. The fact that FIFA and the con­fed­er­a­tions ac­cept this cross-bor­ders con­cept with­out a fuss makes one won­der how In­fantino can jus­tify his op­po­si­tion to the Span­ish league air­lift­ing a topflight game to the United States.

Go­ing state­side has long been a dream for La Liga pres­i­dent Javier Te­bas in his ag­gres­sive quest to take on the Pre­mier League in the in­ter­na­tional rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing are­nas. How­ever, his pref­er­ence for a Cata­lan derby be­tween Barcelona and Girona in Mi­ami has run up against op­po­si­tion from fans and from cap­tains of the other Span­ish league clubs.

Ce­ferin is pro­mot­ing an ex­pan­sion­ist agenda for the Eu­ro­pean game which In­fantino hopes to re­strict. The lat­ter claims: “I would pre­fer to see a big MLS game in the United States in­stead of a La Liga game in the United States. We have reg­u­la­tions that ev­ery­one fol­lows. A pro­posal must be ac­cepted by the re­spec­tive as­so­ci­a­tions, the re­spec­tive con­fed­er­a­tions and FIFA, and there should be a spe­cial rea­son for it.”

So it’s al­right for South Amer­i­can na­tions to play in Europe but not for Eu­ro­pean clubs to play in Amer­ica?

In­fantino might re­spond that Europe’s big clubs al­ready play lu­cra­tive sum­mer­time friendlies of their own in the United States. But even the lus­tre of th­ese matches is start­ing to fade. US fans are not daft. They noted that many of the World Cup stars were ab­sent on de­layed hol­i­days while their clubs were tour­ing.

Value for money is es­sen­tial in a highly com­pet­i­tive en­ter­tain­ment sphere; hence, com­ing full cir­cle, the promis­ing start made by the UEFA Na­tions League. Ex­pect In­fantino to press the world­wide con­cept, par­tic­u­larly bear­ing in mind his pur­suit of re-elec­tion next spring.

Ar­gentina, Brazil and Uruguay all fear a drop in in­come from the loss of lu­cra­tive friendly matches in Europe

Full house... Ger­many (in white) were at home to France

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