By Bill Thomas
Are we living in the end times?
No, I’m not referring to Trump or Brexit, North Korea or climate change, I mean the end times for international football as we know it?
It’s beginning to look that way as, after each international break, the controversy gets ramped up further and further as clubs bemoan the fact that their footballing talent has been spirited away, often halfway across the world – though you might argue they should have thought twice before stockpiling their sides with Argentines, Senegalese and Australian footballer shouldn’t they?
That said, this recent break has been especially galling for everyone. With the season across Europe – the continent that employs most internationals – careering towards its climax, with things getting interesting in plenty of leagues, we are suddenly required to stop short and play international football, and only one of the games being a qualifier at that. Why? Where is the sense in it? Why couldn’t the games being played now be put back a couple of months, the domestic season shortened by a week by losing this break, and the games played without interfering with club football?
As it is, managers and coaches everywhere will have been issuing a handful of prayers each day in the hope that key players come through the games unscathed – the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and Ronald Koeman didn’t fare so well on that front did they? And even if they come through unscathed, you now have plenty of players, especially South Americans, clocking up huge numbers of air miles to get back to their club less than 48 hours before the next round of games.
To that you can add the ire of assorted clubs over the way their players – to whom, in fairness, they pay huge salaries having already invested similarly vast transfer fees – are treated, either by their national associations or by referees. It’s not hard to see Barcelona leaning on Lionel Messi in the wake of his four game suspension, asking him if this international football isn’t all a bit too much these days?
Something is going to have to give in the near future and the most obvious candidate is international friendlies, games which appear to serve little purpose other than the doling out of bogus caps for fixtures that mean little and teach us even less.
Once they go – and they clearly will not be missed – it won’t be long before the powerful lobby of European clubs demand that international football be shifted, in total, to the summer.
There’s a powerful logic to it, certainly as far as they are concerned. If you can conduct a World Cup, Copa America or European Championships in the summer, then why not have the qualifying tournaments in the odd years in the cycle? Getting rid of international breaks would mean that the domestic football season itself could be reduced by three or four weeks which could free up perhaps three week in May and all of June, even more time than is presently set aside for international tournaments.
Playing Saturday / Tuesday / Saturday, there’s plenty of time to get a ten game qualifying group sorted out, and probably play-offs too. If not, the play-offs could be the curtain raiser to the main tournament the following summer.
Supporters would have chance to follow their team during the summer, making life easier in terms of weather and holiday from work and it would give the authorities and the media the opportunity to build a far more interesting competitive narrative in such an intense period of time would do wonders for interest levels that are already flagging over the sprawling qualification process.