By Tom Wardman
8th March 2018
A brand new international football tournament comes around in September 2018, yet somehow, it has almost slipped under the radar. In case you missed it, the draw for the inaugural UEFA Nations League took place on January 26th, with England and the other home nations set to do battle from the start of next season.
So, how, exactly, does the UEFA Nations League work and does international football need another tournament in an already crowded calendar?
UEFA first formulated the idea of this competition back in 2011 and after seven years of fine-tuning, we’re ready for the first round of games in September. With Kosovo the newest member to be welcomed into the European footballing family, we now have four divisions with 55 teams divided based on ability and competing against each other.
At the end of the regular season, winners go on to a playoff stage and there is scope for promotion and relegation. In addition, the Nations League can also provide a second qualification route to the more prestigious European Championships. At this stage, the format may seem a little complicated but all will become clear once the tournament gets underway. The intent is certainly one that should aid international football as a whole.
By introducing a brand new tournament, UEFA’s intention is to cut down on the increasing number of pointless friendlies on the calendar by bringing in something more meaningful. That has to be good news for the spectators and for the TV Broadcasters who will be tired of seeing squads, depleted by numerous withdrawals by top players, going through the motions.
Many will have wanted to wipe these two games from their memory but England’s November 2017 fixtures against Germany and Brazil are perfect examples – two forgettable 0-0 draws.
International friendlies have very few upsides but national coaches would argue that it does give them the opportunity to hand debuts to players who might not have been called up to the squad otherwise. Tottenham’s Harry Winks was one of the very few positives to come out of that bore draw with Germany and it’s certainly debatable whether, at 21, he would have played if the game had anything riding on it.
Manager Gareth Southgate would need to know whether the likes of Winks, Tom Heaton, Ben Gibson and Tammy Abraham have the quality to step up from junior level. It’s the same for coaches across Europe and, while it may be a solitary argument, it is a valid one.
In the modern day, football fans can feel that they are overlooked but, as a vital part of the network, they are the ones set to benefit from the introduction of the UEFA Nations League. With a complicated format that isn’t short of critics, there is potential for ‘teething troubles’ but its intentions make this tournament a welcome addition to the calendar.
And, for nations who are tired of a diet of international friendlies that offer little beyond breaking up the momentum of the domestic leagues, its arrival can’t come soon enough.