Are European competitions killing international football?
For some time now, we have had to listen to managers of football clubs complain about the demand that international football places on their players. We have heard complaints about fatigue and injuries. We have even heard calls for International friendlies to be scrapped. Whilst I understand that these managers are looking after the interests of their own clubs, I can’t understand how some supporters have bought into these ideas. International football really has lost some of its value, partly due to managers bemoaning it, partly due to TV being saturated by domestic and continental football; international football is now seen as a disruption.
Did we hear these complaints 20 years ago? International football hasn’t changed much in terms of the amount of games being played. If anything, there are less international matches being played. Last season, the English national team played 9 games, 4 of which were friendlies. In the 1990-91 season, England played 12 matches, of which 9 were friendlies. What has changed rather dramatically, is the amount of games teams have to play in European competition. It seems to be only managers of clubs competing in Europe, who complain about international football!
Before the inception of the money machine that is the Champions League, teams competing in the old European Cup had to play 9 games to win the competition, but could be knocked out after 2. These days, to win the Champions League, you have to play 13 games (more, if a team coming through the qualifiers happens to win it as that could add an extra 6 games coming from the 1st qualifying round). No matter what happens in the group, team are guaranteed 6 games.
In the old UEFA Cup, 13 games had to be played to win it. Fulham got to the final of the 2010 Europa League, playing 19 matches! Fulham had to start their pre-season friendlies at the start of July (going all the way to Australia to play 3 friendly matches!) Another contributing factor to the amount of games played is the fact that in England they have two domestic cups, as opposed to just one in countries like Spain, Italy and Germany (who abolished their league cup in 2007).
With all these extra games being played, teams have to start their preparations for the season much earlier to allow for pre-season friendlies, with money generating trips to far away places like Malaysia, China and Australia becoming the norm. If managers were that concerned about their players, maybe they shouldn’t fly 10,000 miles to play these friendly games?
If calls can be made for International friendlies to be cancelled, then why not cancel club friendlies? They are too important for preparation, that’s why! And it’s not different at international level either. In fact they are probably more important for international teams, considering the gap between games. Friendlies are an important part of any team’s preparation for competitive games. Systems are familiarized, players get used to playing together and it gives the manager time to tweak tactics. Could Ireland just turn up to this summer’s European Championships on the back of no friendly games and expect to have any success against teams like Spain, Italy or Croatia?
The next time you hear a manager complain about International friendlies, stop and think about why they never complain about the amount of games they have to play in UEFA competitions. It’s all about the money and if we aren’t careful, we will all be adopting the Champions League anthem as our own as international football is in danger of suffering a slow death.