Kevin De Bruyne’s Nations League slam highlights international football’s big problem

Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne didn’t mince words when asked about his upcoming international matches.

“For me, the Nations League is not important,” said the Belgian star ahead of a four-game run in the competition.

“We have to play these matches, but it’s kind of a training campaign. Everyone has had a very difficult season.”

De Bruyne is not wrong to say that it is another bump at the end of a long road, he joins the national team after a 44 game season facing competitive games against countries like the Netherlands and Poland.

The idea behind the Nations League was to make European international football more competitive. UEFA

wanted to have fewer dead rubber qualifiers and avoid soulless friendlies where the full 11 were changed at half-time.

Or, as he put it in the League’s official launch press release, “the compact format, in which any game can be decisive, makes it a dynamic competition where no team can afford to lose. his concentration. In the UEFA Nations League, every game counts.

But after playing in a grueling Premier League title race, which went down to the dying minutes of the season, and a full Champions League campaign, where he missed the final in extra time, you can see why De Bruyne isn’t craving for another round of intense games.

“I want to win. Other than that, I don’t have much to say about it,” he added, “as players we can talk about holidays or rest, but we don’t We don’t have a say in it. We follow what we have to do. And that’s it, we have a little over three weeks of vacation every twelve months.

“The underdogs don’t understand how a player feels after a season.”

His views are, unsurprisingly, backed by the biggest planning critic of them all, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

“I still think it’s one of the most ridiculous ideas in the world of football because now we’re finishing a season where players have played over 70 games, easily – 63 or 64 club games, plus internationals – and then straight to 75, which is pretty crazy,” said the German coach.

“We continue with the Nations League games because we have to play them [when] there is no tournament, it doesn’t matter if we play four, five or six games with the national teams,” Klopp added.

Relegated or not?

The problem most critics have with the Nations League isn’t about the number of games, it’s that all glory is pretty far away and the danger level for most teams isn’t high either.

A big innovation for the competition was the introduction of promotion and relegation, matching international play with domestic football.

But the crucial difference between being demoted from the Nations League versus something like the Premier League is that in many cases it didn’t seem to have much of an impact.

Not least because Germany, the first major nation to be relegated under the new format, remained in the top division as UEFA decided to revamp the format immediately.

These changes did not see any of the countries that were demoted in the first edition fall because the governing body wanted a bigger top tier with higher profile games.

As German outlet DW put it, “League A will now have 16 teams, which will mean more games and more revenue for UEFA.”

Relegation is even more of a problem when the teams at the bottom aren’t even bothered either.

Northern Ireland have lost a division since the last Nations League but, despite being aware of the qualifying prize money available to those who do well in the competition, their manager Ian Baraclough has suggested they will use the games to give young people an opportunity they don’t normally get.

“We have always used this tournament as a chance to give [young players] experience and we still see it as a tournament like this, although we also know the benefits of winning games and aiming for first place,” he said ahead of the matches against Greece, Cyprus and Kosovo. .

“It’s about trying to find that balance, bringing new players into the team, but also for us it’s the big picture of qualifying for the European Championships and World Cups. .”

More tournaments, less interest?

Interestingly, the Nations League format bears a striking resemblance to the original format of the European Championships, or Euros as they are now known. When the competition was first established in the 1960s, a long qualifying campaign spanning many years was settled into a four-team tournament every four years, much like UEFA’s second string competition.

The crucial difference with the Nations League is that it takes place every two years and is essentially a less prestigious version of the Euros.

France may be the current starters, but few would say that even begins to make up for their exit from the second round of the European Championships last summer.

Repetition is the biggest problem in international football when it comes to creating new tournaments to generate new revenue.

The geographical parameters of the national sport mean that football associations can only really create things that replicate what already exists.

FIFA, for example, tried unsuccessfully to create something to fill the voids left by the World Cup.

The FIFA Confederations Cup was held every two years from 1997 to 2017 and brought together the winners of various continental competitions, such as the Euros.

His problem was that winning the competition didn’t mean much, no nation could realistically claim to be the best in the world to win, it was the winner of the World Cup. The trophy might look like a real one, but it didn’t fool anyone.

In 2019, after a series of delays and schedule changes, FIFA announced it was canceling the entire competition focusing instead on recouping some of the domestic league’s revenue with a FIFA Cup. Expanded FIFA Club World.

UEFA and CONMEBOL seized the opportunity to fill what they saw as the void left by inter-confederation competition by reviving CONMEBOL – UEFA Champions Cup – or Finalissima as it was rebranded – match between Euros winner and Copa America champion.

The Argentinian players looked thrilled to clinch the crown after a 3-0 win, but you get the sense that Italy as a nation were infinitely more disappointed with their failure to reach the World Cup in Qatar this year.

What to do

You can’t blame Europe’s governing body for taking this approach, anyone who understands football finance knows that while the romance and lore of David vs Goliath clashes may be strong, which makes money, these are the clashes between prestigious teams.

It was this knowledge that fueled attempts at a breakaway European Super League and created the expanded Champions League format.

The large church that makes up the international football community makes these types of breakaways harder to understand.

But the challenge for the organizers is the same, if not more difficult.

After all, a global audience might not be excited about a clash between Northern Ireland and Albania, but in those two countries the game can be hugely important.

Europe’s political geography has traditionally placed it at a disadvantage compared to places like South America where the majority of nations are reasonably sized and a love of football meant most had competitive teams.

The plethora of European nations with small populations and little football heritage has led to many discrepancies, which have often become tedious.

A change was needed, but perhaps the governing body went too far in the other direction, racking up so many games between the biggest teams that they too were devalued.

The long-term answer, you think, is not to try to create new formats but to maximize existing competitions.

Another reason FIFA dropped the Confederations Cup is that they are considering a World Cup every two years, the Euros have now grown to 24 teams and there are suggestions that could be expanded to 32 nations.

One can only wonder what Kevin De Bruyne and Jurgen Klopp would make of a half-yearly World Cup, an expanded Euro and a Nations League crammed into an already overflowing fixture list.

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