Many years ago as Michel Platini started up the ladder of European and World football first as coach then as organizer of World Cup 1998 many speculated and expressed positive hopes that Platini might eventually succeed Sepp Blatter at FIFA. Times passed and as history has recorded he decided against running for the FIFA job and instead ran against and replaced Lennart Johansson at UEFA. His image was and has remained a clean one, especially compared to the many tainted faces at FIFA and football federations the world. His promises as he campaigned for the UEFA job were inclusive and hinted at a bigger role or chance for Europe’s minnows or small nations. The Europa League was a rebrand of sorts early on and was met with indifference with most. It reshaped the previous UEFA Cup and was to be often dismissed as second class by sponsors, top coaches and teams.
Next, Platini led the charge for another set of changes. The first was the expansion of the European Championship to 24 teams. The World Cup had already shown the absurdity of having 24 teams as it involved third placed teams qualifying for later rounds in a less than obvious format. In UEFA’s case the format was not the only cause for negative reactions but the number itself meant that a hefty 44% (24/54) member teams qualified for a final tournament. A much too big a number that rendered the qualification process less meaningful and at first try in 2014 is already showing its effects with odd qualifying results.
All this was in line with Platini’s “inclusive” promise. He is giving smaller national teams more chances at the big match and participation in bigger events like the Euro finals itself.
Around the same time UEFA presented the idea of having a European Championship held in several countries. Turkey was close to grabbing hosting rights for the 2020 edition but complications and Platini came up with a spread up championship. One can presume an expanded tournament lowers the number of countries capable of hosting a tournament all by themselves therefore arguably that counts as another negative for a 24 team Euro. After all was said and done 13 venues were selected to stage matches and by football standards the list included a few from smaller hosts. Baku Azerbaijan being one example with it set to host a quarter final.
Fast forward to December 2014 and the latest idea truly deserves the confusing term. The UEFA Nations League is the latest reshape of national team calendar and the often maligned friendly fixtures.
In the UEFA Nations League the 54 UEFA members will be divided into groups or divisions based on recent results to play each other on international friendly dates. The complication starts when the format is to be explained, it is as follows and the first edition starts in September 2018:
- Countries are divided into 4 divisions – 12 teams, 12 teams, 14 teams, 16 teams – with the top countries in group A.
- Each division will be divided into four pools of three or four therefore each team will play four or six matches within their pool and division.
- There will be a relegation and promotion between divisions.
- The games will run from September to November and a final four in June of the following year to determine a winner.
- There will be an incentive as teams doing well here will be involved in a playoffs for four spots in the European Championships (starting with Euro 2020), one team from each division will qualify for the Euros.
It is perhaps best to just look at the graphic below!
The format of the UEFA Nations League
The fixture list is full with the clubs being most responsible for providing no meaningful rest to players who in turn get burnt out and injured more easily. UEFA, led by Platini, has added layers of confusing formats and competitions which while not without a beneficiary – the aforementioned smaller teams for example – are not helping keep the simple game as beautiful as it has been.