Uefa considering playing a new Nations League competition
New format, combined with traditional qualifiers, would create more interest
Republic of Ireland fans could be cheering on a new Uefa Nations League competition.
Uefa is considering a radical overhaul of international football that would see national teams playing a new Nations League competition.
The idea, floated at executive committee meetings that preceded a Uefa meeting in Dubrovnik last month, would see Uefa using existing dates for friendlies in the international calendar to launch a new league involving all 54 member nations.
Uefa sources have said that the idea was one of several floated at the meeting as part of a discussion about how to improve the attractiveness of international football from 2018 onwards. The Uefa executive committee will now examine the idea in more detail before deciding whether to adopt it.
The new concept, first revealed by Norwegian paper Dagbladet, would see all Uefa’s members divided into a series of perhaps nine divisions based on their recent results, with promotion and relegation following each round of matches.
The winner of the first division would be Uefa’s Nations League champion and win a substantial prize, with the bottom team in each division being relegated in favour of the winner of the tier below.
The Norwegian FA president, Yngve Hallen, who sits on Uefa’s national committee for international tournaments, said: “It is true that a series of games is one of the models being discussed.”
The discussions are taking place against a backdrop of concern that the qualifying campaigns for the expanded European Championships from 2016 will prove less attractive because there will be less jeopardy.
In conjunction with other Uefa innovations due to be introduced from 2014 onwards, including its “week of football” in which qualifiers will take place across six days to maximise viewers, the drive from its HQ in Nyon is to boost the profile of the international game.
Uefa has recently taken central control of TV rights for the competitive qualifying matches of all its member nations, promising large underwritten guarantees to the biggest countries.
That has increased the pressure on Uefa to bring in funding from TV and commercial partners in order to meet them.
If the Uefa Nations League idea is explored further, then the European governing body would be likely to look to centralise the TV and marketing rights in the same way as it has for the Champions League.
“The success of the Champions League has already inspired the Europa League. This is also something they are trying to look at in connection with the Nations League – how this can sharpen the market. That’s what this is largely about,” said Hallen.
“But there have been very clear political guidelines from all 54 federations that the focus needs to be on the football/competitive aspect. All countries should have equal opportunities,” he added.
“No one should have to qualify for this tournament – everyone plays from the first game. And then there is also a recognition that tournament form should be easy to understand for most people.
“All this we need to work out.”
The Swedish FA representative Karl-Erik Nilsson told Aftonbladet that “it has been established that it is difficult to get interest around friendlies”.
“For 2020 it has been looked at whether it would be possible to combine traditional qualifiers with with this league format, instead of friendlies, to increase interest,” he said.
“It is worth looking at but we were clear that it can’t have an impact on the qualifiers for the Euro tournaments. The qualifiers are number one and have the highest priority. There won’t be more international games because of this.”
He said the initial reaction among the 54 members was that “creating more interest is not something negative”.
Nilsson added: “All 54 members were in Croatia and the idea was presented from a perspective of: is this worth looking at? And the overall feeling was: ‘let’s look at it but don’t let it have an impact on the qualifiers’.”
He said that one idea included in the presentation was to divide the groups so that clubs next to one another in the Fifa rankings were grouped together, while another version envisaged a geographical structure.
The English FA and the other big European associations may be among the most difficult to convince of the merits of the plan, because they would have to give up the possibility of lucrative friendlies against big South American sides.