UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE, THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR THE WORLD CUP?
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
This article was originally published on September 19th, 2018.
When the international break comes around, it can be a struggle for many soccer fans around the world. It can feel like the longest week and a half of a soccer fan life, without the regularly scheduled club games.
In response to this UEFA, European soccer's governing body, has taken the decision to revolutionize the outlook of the international break, with the UEFA Nations League
When you first look at the format of the newest international soccer tournament, it can leave you scratching your head in a state of bewilderment.
It is not as perplexing as it may originally seem. So, let's take a look to see how the UEFA Nations League actually works, and attempt to figure out if it is the future of international soccer.
UEFA hopes that the Nations League will give international soccer a much-needed boost, in the eyes of soccer fans. The new tournament will see international exhibition games relegated to a distant memory. No longer will we see players strolling around the field not trying as the game has no consequences. Games will now be more competitive, with the threat of potential relegation hanging over each country, while also offering an additional opportunity to qualify for the 2020 European Championships.
The Nations League will take place every two years, between the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship. Group matches will take place between September, October, and November, with finals contested in June the following year.
All 55 UEFA members will participate in the completion. Although they will be divided into four separate leagues creatively named leagues A, B, C, and D. For the first iteration of the tournament, each nation's UEFA coefficient dictates which league they are in.
The coefficient, is derived from the results of the country in question. So if your nation wins regularly you rank higher. So you will no longer see teams such as Germany take on San Marino or Gibraltar.
Each of the four leagues will be further split into groups, consisting of three of four countries. As can be seen below:
The winners of each group in the B, C, and D leagues will gain promotion, to the higher league. The country that finishes at the bottom of their group in leagues A, B, and C will be relegated.
In June 2019, the 4 group winners will contest the finals. Consisting of two semi-finals, one third-place game and a final, to determine the first UEFA Nations League winner.
The UEFA Nations League, will also have an effect on the 2020 European Championship.
The first thing to remember is that for the 2020 competition, UEFA has made some format changes. Starting with the 2020 tournament, UEFA will allow 24 teams to qualify, instead of the previous 16.
So, how does this affect the qualification process for the European Championship?
Twenty teams will qualify through the original European Championship qualification process. Therefore, leaving four places for winners of the Nations League playoffs.
Nations such as Scotland, who have qualified for European Championships inconstantly, were among the countries to support the idea of the Nations League. As it now offers counties a second chance to qualify, should they fail during the original qualifiers.
As soccer continues to innovate, it is within the sports best interests that the UEFA Nations League succeeds.
The international level of the game is meant to be the most compelling example of what soccer can be. International soccer is a celebration of the communal, in times of the individual. It deserves the best possible chance.
FIFA, soccer's world governing body, has identified the opportunities that the Nations League could offer for the growth of the sport, and are keeping a close eye on its success.
If the UEFA Nations League does prove to be a success, FIFA is already looking at developing its own version of the tournament. The idea would see every continent host its own Nations League. Culminating in a Global National League, which would feature the winners from each continent.
FIFA understands that TV audiences for big World Cup matches dwarf those for big Champions League matches. However, the issue FIFA currently faces is that there is currently a lack of supply of top-class international soccer.
Current qualification and tournament systems are often weighted in favor of top-tier nations, meaning that many countries don't often meet in competitive matches. Therefore, countries such as England and Spain, for example, have not met in a competitive match since 1996.
The introduction of the Nations League does not mean that international players will be playing more games, but better games. If we see the Nations League succeed, the format will quickly become unstoppable.
Furthermore, the Global Nations League could be a great way for FIFA to replace, the loss-making Confederations Cup.
One question that still needs to be answered is, who would own the Global Nations League?
The original idea by UEFA, was to bypass FIFA, sharing the tournament with the other continental confederations.
However, things changed when Gianni Infantino became the new president of FIFA. UEFA's former Secretary-General, however, decided to take the plans with him when he made the move between the two organizations.
As it currently stands, FIFA is almost completely a single-product company. With 90% of its revenue coming from the men's World Cup competition. Furthermore, due to the recent corruption scandals, many of FIFA's western sponsors have chosen to cut ties. As a result, Infantino identified the potential idea of a Global Nations League, as a new source of revenue for the organization.
A large consortium of investors has already agreed to fund FIFA's plans. Which according to reports is rumored to be around $25 billion. Infantino described it as the "highest investment soccer has ever seen." The influx of funding could see FIFA develop the Nations Leagues for each continent.
Under FIFA's plans the eight countries that will play in the Global Nations League, would share in this investment. Each country could see a windfall of between $37 million and $75 million, for participating in the tournament. Compare this to last year's Confederations Cup, where winners Germany received only $4million.
The cash however does not appear to come for free. The investment consortium expects to control the Nations Leagues until 2033. In the tradition of FIFA, Infantino has refused to be transparent about the funding consortium. During a meeting in Bogota, Colombia, in March Infantino pressured FIFA's ruling council to push through his plans. The council has refused, for the time being.
This move by Infantino irritated UEFA. "We had an idea about a possible Global Nations League," its president, Aleksander Ceferin, told the German magazine Kicker. "We first presented it to the FIFA president, then to national associations and to clubs. And all of a sudden FIFA comes and says they are ready to sell it, our idea, to a fund without any explanations. It is really a strange offer."
The Financial Times broke a story about the parties behind Infantino's investment consortium. They identifying Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank with other investors from China and Saudi Arabia.
However, in reality, most of the influence is likely to have come from Saudi Arabia. A soccer-mad nation that is jealous of its tiny neighbor Qatar, who will host the 2022 World Cup. The Saudi's want influence of their own, and hosting the first Global Nations League could prove that.
There is a chance that a Global Nations League may never happen, with the current ownership debate.
However, if a Global Nations League does become a reality, it would likely be added to the soccer calendar by about 2022.
Due to how lucrative the idea appears to be. After its introduction, the Global Nations League has the potential to surpass the World Cup in prestige and attention. Much like the way the Olympic soccer tournament was surpassed by the World Cup from the 1930s.
A benefit for the Global Nations League could be, FIFA's decision to expand the World Cup from thirty-two to forty-eight teams. As weaker teams choose to play defensive tactics in early rounds, the product may suffer. With viewers choosing only to watch from the knockout stages onward.
"There is nothing bigger in terms of boosting soccer in a country than participating in a World Cup," Infantino has said.
Infantino's statement is correct, however, this could come at the expense of a gradual dulling of the tournament. The introduction of lesser quality teams has the ability to dilute the excitement in such a large tournament. Therefore, this could allow an opening for a higher quality Global Nations League to outshine the World Cup.
An expanded World Cup will certainly produce more income for FIFA, with help from broadcasters, sponsors and ticket sales. However, a larger World Cup means a diminished World Cup. This could make supporters console themselves with the Global Nations League.
Which could see its winners, someday coming to be regarded as the true soccer world champions.
There may come a time that we look back to this month, as the start of something great a defining moment that changed soccer. However, maybe the European Nations League is just another tournament.