Few will mourn the passing of the international friendly

Uefa claim revenues are not a driver for Nations League which seems laughable

It is hard to imagine really that Tuesday night’s game will join the list, but some of Ireland’s most famous games down the years have been friendlies.

The defeat of England in Goodison Park in 1949, for instance, the win over the then World Champions, West Germany, at Dalymount 17 years later and the 1-0 win over Brazil when Liam Brady got the goal, are probably right up there in terms of the team's most remembered outings.

Many of the rest, of course, were against Poland and perhaps it is the nature of these things that nobody talks 40 years after the fact about the likes of the scoreless draw with them back in April 1977.

Still, they all served a purpose and somebody in the FAI presumably had a pretty good idea just what that purpose was at the time.

Now, friendlies are themselves being consigned to history. A few will survive but the majority are being nudged aside so as to make way for the Nations League which will be setting the world alight in a stadium near you starting in the autumn of next year.

The new competition is an unsightly animal. That old line about an elephant being a mouse designed by a committee springs to mind. Uefa have lots of committees and over the best part of six years a few of them had a hand in the design of this thing.

In essence, the 55 countries are divided into four divisions each of which will, in theory at least, be competing for the prize of a place at a competition that already matters, though perhaps not for long if they keep messing with it in this manner, the European Championships.

It is only in theory because as things stand, say, the 12 countries on course to make up League A were all at Euro 2016 anyway and so there is every possibility that the prize for League A will, under the rules, go to a team from League B while teams from League A will have to settle in reality for playing other highly ranked sides and, perhaps, being crowned champions at the “Final Four Competition”, described by Uefa in its bumf as a “new top level event”.

But it’s worth noting that while there are 12 teams in League A, there are 16 in league D. This is so that the stronger teams have to play fewer games in the competition, not generally an entirely good sign.

There will be promotion and relegation in the Nations League and Ireland, who as things stand would be in League B, would have an incentive to get themselves into League A in order to play bigger sides in, the thinking would go, correspondingly more attractive games.

But teams in League C and League D, where the weaker nations will reside, might actually view benefits of promotion as undermined to an extent by the downside of going up which is that it will make getting one of the four places up for grabs at the European Championship that much harder to get.

It is probably best to just move on from the fact that Uefa reckon it is a good thing to allow a team from the 16 weakest countries in Europe to qualify for the tournament. Perhaps they feel it will bring a novelty element to an event previously regarded as dull by some for its preoccupation with high end competition.

Few people would mourn the passing of the friendly, if the replacement was genuinely appealing

The justification for all of this is, according to Uefa, that associations want more meaningful games. “Coaches, players and supporters are increasingly of the opinion that friendly matches are not providing adequate competition for national teams”. Now they might not be entirely wrong there.

They have always been imperfect things with clubs routinely not wanting players to participate when the stakes were so low and supporters being disappointed by the absence of the bigger names and, obviously the poor quality of so many of the games themselves.

Things have been complicated in more recent years by, on the one hand, the ranking points that contributed to World Cup seedings and, on the other, the growing power of clubs who been better able to exert pressure at all levels to limit the involvement of their employees.

Martin O’Neill has admitted that he did not even appreciate the ranking points aspect when he took on his current job but if, by any chance, he needed it, his assistant could probably have provided him with a detailed account of the difficulties sometimes caused by clubs.

The upshot is that many friendlies are characterised by a variety of people doing their best in advance to build up expectations to a match that very often on the night feels very flat indeed.

Under the new system, almost every game would be competitive but for the moment possibility that there might be a cluster of debuts in a particular match (Olomouc anyone?) continues to have a certain appeal, both for the players and fans.

A couple tonight might well prove to be a reason for remembering this encounter which is as well because it is not clear that even Iceland’s remarkable achievements at Euro 2016 and the team’s associated appeal have had the capacity to make much of an occasion of it otherwise; especially when some of the best players from both sides have already returned to their clubs.

Uefa claims that revenues are not a driver for the changes which seems a little laughable but few people would mourn the passing of the friendly (okay, a few will still be played, particularly by those bigger teams) if the replacement was genuinely appealing. Instead, the Nations League is convoluted to the point of contortion, a competition invented by accountants and marketing people for the benefit of football organisations that employ plenty of both.

We can, in the circumstances, only be thankful that when the World Cup, European Championships and European Cup were dreamt up many years ago there weren’t rights holders to be thought about, TV schedules to take into consideration or revenue streams to obsess over.

The Nations League is so transparently the product of all these factors and so little else that by the time it kicks off in September of next year, we might already be wondering just what it is Oman are up to that night.