Keir Radnedge Nations League a success
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