Every couple of months its the same. Just as you’re getting in the swing of things with the Premier League season suddenly everything comes to a juddering halt as the internationals are played out. The nation stifles a colective yawn as England take on a team of sheep herders in a qualifying cakewalk or there’s some meaningless friendly with Denmark. Kevin Henning espouses a radical overhaul that could make international football interesting and relevant once again. Its time to drop the formalities and pair the great against the great.
I’ve long tried to envisage a radical shake up to international football that would both eliminate the much derided friendly internationals and give importance to the ridiculous FIFA rankings.
Before I ramble on about the international calendar I’d love to see, I believe a simple request from UEFA and FIFA could put an end to the club versus country rows that are all too common in the modern game. If the governing bodies asked players of all nationalities to request clauses in their contracts allowing them to be called up whenever an international date was scheduled, we would see who really is proud to play for their nation and who would rather cry off with an injury that mysteriously clears up by the Saturday lunchtime SKY special (I’m looking at you Stevie).
Now about my master plan: I like to look back over records of matches involving both my club Manchester City and my national team England. One tour that always catches my eye is the triple header played in 1984, famous for a young John Barnes showing the Brazilians how it’s done in their own backyard. During that trip to South America, England also faced Uruguay and Chile in Montevideo and Santiago respectively. And it’s this very prospect that first got me thinking of how the International game needs to be re-thought. Apart from the next World Cup (held in Brazil), I may NEVER see England play a match in South America again. It is seriously unlikely for example, that we will ever watch our national team take on Argentina in one of the most historic temples of the world game, El Monumental. As much as a money spinning friendly at Wembley may suit the bigwigs of the F.A. when they are working out how to pay off the mortgage on the ludicrously expensive national stadium, a mouth watering tie in Buenos Aires would have every English fan glued to their sets.
I love International football but truly believe that a re-think is needed to breathe new life into it.
So how would we go about this? Well qualifying groups would be a thing of the past. The international calendar would be made up of mini leagues of maybe nine teams decided on by the rankings at the end of the previous year. To get a gist of my idea, let’s start at the top. Currently, the top nine are as follows : Holland, Spain, Germany, England, Uruguay, Brazil, Italy, Portugal and Argentina. At the start of the year, Holland would be told to choose which four teams they wanted to play at home and which four they would visit. Spain would be told where they were to take on Holland and asked to pick the venues of their remaining 7 fixtures and so on. The 9 would play eight fixtures each in a mini-league during the course of a calendar year, always 4 at home and 4 away. In each group of 9, three would be promoted and three relegated to ensure a freshness to the fixtures each year.
When the World Cup rolls around, the top 21 ranked teams (the first two groups plus the promoted sides from group 3) would automatically qualify for the tournament along with the hosts. Then the next 10 teams would enter a play-off draw along with 10 teams selected by each confederation nominating 2 teams apiece in a wildcard system. Still following? This would ensure that all the top ranked teams were present at the finals whilst giving a chance to all continents. Africa, for example could nominate their highest two teams not already within those selected. At present that would be Egypt and Ghana. Each nation would not only be trying to get within the top two or three leagues but would also be targeting the teams from their own continent to try to play the wildcard system. Each federation could discard the rest when it comes to decided their own championships and use the system for qualification. UEFA would simply look at only European sides on the ranking when deciding who would go to the Euros.
I know it would be complicated at first and take a few years of getting used to but what would you rather see for two consecutive England fixtures, a qualifier away at Macedonia followed by a Wembley friendly against Denmark or a competitive league match at home to Brazil followed by a relegation battle away at Argentina?
I reckon that records for International caps would be smashed as players who often cry off for friendlies (Giggsy?) would realise that their only chance of getting to a tournament would be to turn up for every single (Wales) match. I love International football but truly believe that a re-think is needed to breathe new life into it. Come on Sepp, you know it sounds good….