In September 2018, UEFA kicked off a biennial international football competition, where the senior men’s national teams of the member associations of UEFA competed against each other. The primary aim of the competition was to replace international friendly matches played within the international FIFA calendar. This move ensured more competitive games, giving the fans a more fabulous spectacle than they experienced during the friendly matches.
Portugal won the competition’s first edition, while Italy beat France to win the second. Despite the relative success that the competition has had in the two years of its existence, criticism has been mounting against it for various reasons and from various individuals within the sport. Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp branded the Nations League a “ridiculous” idea, while Arsene Wenger said the competition should be binned. Kevin de Bruyne took a shot against the competition, noting that the matches were nothing more than ‘just glorified friendlies.’
One criticism towards the Nations League is due to its toll on players’ health and fitness. Some players are involved in 63 or 64 club games during a regular football season. The addition of international matches in the FIFA calendar takes the games to 75. This addition of more games during the seasons has resulted in injuries to players due to the load they take by playing many games with little rest within a short period. Apart from the load they have during games, the travel from city to city or country to another makes the schedule uncomfortable for players.
In addition to improving the FIFA calendar’s competitiveness, one other reason for the Nations League is to improve the revenue streams of UEFA. However, the most pressing question in the quest to increase revenues should be whether it should be at the expense of players’ fitness and health. The idea of the UEFA Nations League is good for business, but from a footballing perspective, such a radical haul is not suitable for football.
Moreover, UEFA Nations League inhibits national associations from planning on squad development. A lower-ranked nation like Malta, for example, Albania or Moldova, or even Scotland or Wales, under the UEFA Nations League format, is prevented from scheduling friendly matches against superior opposition. This format inhibits the attempts to give players a better and superior footballing experience against the best sides in Europe. The Nations League does not give national associations the best preparations for tournaments. For example, before the UEFA Euros or the FIFA World Cup, countries such as Germany, Italy, and Spain should have the freedom to schedule friendly games against teams equivalent to those they are paired with on the group stage.
There is a need to balance the players’ interests, national associations, and the governing body. Players’ fitness should be a priority to prevent overload and injuries, and national associations should be given the freedom to schedule friendly games for tournament preparation and squad development. With such considerations, the priorities of the governing body notwithstanding, the interests of every party must be considered.
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