As a fan, it’s difficult to read about the UEFA ‘Nations League’ and not be excited for the new competition.
Another meaningful contest among top European nations?!?! A European international tournament that gives birth to another European international tournament?!?!
No more of these boring, largely meaningless friendlies that tell us next to nothing about the true potency of a national team.
Sure, those matches provide some tactical upside like being a means for managers to blood young talent and try out new formations. But from a purely supporters-based perspective, international friendly weekends suck — major letdowns that barely serve as a hit in fans eternal search for soccer ecstasy.
Which is exactly why just one week after an international friendly, most supporters have grown so despondent they’ve turned sport into religion. “Thank the Gods of Soccer, the [insert league/competition name here] is back. Thought I might not make it there for awhile…”
So in that sense, a Nations League is more than a welcome addition to the soccer menu. But beneath pure, unbridled fandom lurks a very important consideration — the well-being of the players we all love. At what point does it all become too much?
Crucial to the 54 UEFA member associations push for the new ‘Nations League’ is the concept that club managers should get on board because the tournament will not add more matches to a player’s schedule. “We’re not taking any more dates so it’s the same 18 dates, the nine double-headers that we agreed we would work to,” said Alex Horne, General Secretary of England’s Football Association.
This point, of course, is a red herring.
Simply because there will not be a greater quantity of matches does not mean that a significant added strain will be placed on the players. Expect this to be a major point of contention from club owners and managers. As is, most clubs already hate international friendlies, which all too often result in a player returning back to the club injured (see, e.g. Jack Wilshere in England’s friendly v. Denmark on March 5th).
For club managers, a Nations League will only serve to increase the likelihood and frequency of their star players finding themselves on the trainer’s table. No longer will top European internationals be willing to sit out at any sign of breakdown or exhaustion. The inherent demand each player will feel to help his nation qualify for the Euros will be unrelenting. Prudence will become a thing of the past.
“I think better quality games make for better quality development of players and the club managers ought to embrace it,” Horne stated Thursday.
Good luck selling that message to the men who sign the checks.