It’s time for FIFA to rethink international football.
In 1992, UEFA changed the European Cup to the Champions League and transformed European club football into a more entertaining product that generates vast sums of money. It also didn’t hurt that the tournament now attracts a cumulative television audience of 4 billion viewers in 227 countries.
While club football in the form of the Champions League, Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga has flourished, international football has come far less important with each passing year. Sure, we football fans still love the massive tournaments such as the World Cup, Copa America and European Championships, but the rest of international football competitions are mundane and an inconvenience.
Take England, for example. Their first match in their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign kicked off last Saturday against Andorra. Between now and the next 14 months, England will play nine other matches against the likes of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Andorra and Croatia. Other than the home and away leg against Croatia, the list of future England matches hardly inspires any enthusiasm.
One of the main problems about international football is that other than the actual tournaments themselves, the qualifying matches and friendlies are – for the most part – dire. By increasing the number of teams that play in major tournaments and increasing the number of countries to participate in qualifying rounds, teams like England suffer a long and arduous process just to enter the World Cup and European Championships.
Sure, we shouldn’t take it for granted that teams like England should qualify for these tournaments, but there has to be a better system for reducing the length of the qualification process.
The way that internationals interrupt league football throughout the season is frustrating for football fans, players and the football managers and club owners. Everyone loses. Players are exhausted after flying halfway around the world and then are expected to come back and play club football the following Saturday. Fans are frustrated that the momentum from the start to the new season has been stopped, while club managers and owners do battle with football associations and national managers trying to find new ways to prevent their star players from competing in international games.
The solution is to cease the 14 month qualification process and replace it with a mini-tournament to determine which nations will qualify for the European Championships or World Cup. The mini-tournament would be held within the space of 30 days — thus allowing players and fans to watch teams compete to qualify for the major competitions. The solution would be more attractive to players, fans, club managers, owners and would hopefully appease the football associations.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I do believe that FIFA needs to look into changing international football to make it something we can believe in again. Hopefully they’ll do that before it’s too late, if it’s not too late already.
What do you think? Is international football fine the way it is, or should FIFA step in and rethink the way the qualification processes for tournaments are organized?