It would be far easier for me to just phone my reader with this, or email him, but sometimes it’s nice to write something down in the hope that more than 1 person will read it.
I sit writing this watching England v Dan Marino, a Euro 2016 qualifier. As I write this, it’s 0-0 after 20 minutes, it probably won’t stay that way but if it does then my argument will be pointless.
I’ll start by posing a question. Is there too much international football? My personal view is that there is just a tad too much but it’s not a massive problem. The problem lies in the quality of some of the matches. There are too many meaningless and pointless which serve as nothing but to cause problems for club sides, increase risk of injury to players (England just scored) and just generally get in the way of excellent league matches. With stadiums not being filled for these matches and more people watching random folk bake bread or a nice flan than watch England then I’d suggest there is a problem.
There are 54 UEFA members and 53 of them are trying to qualify for Euro 2016, France as host nation don’t need to qualify. I bet they win Euro 2016. Euro 2016 is the first UEFA tournament to feature 24 teams in finals.
Make sure you select “UEFA” at the bottom to remove the other confederations.
So, what is my point. Take a look at the bottom 20 teams trying in vain (no offence) to qualify for Euro 2016. Now, there are teams not in the top 24 who I’m sure people would want to see at Euro 2016 but for arguments sake, we could at least agree that nobody would complain too much if these were the 24 at Euro 2016. The problem though, is that this tournament is going to serve up some dross which a 16 team tournament rarely does (Austria v Bosnia doesn’t excite in the way France v Italy might). UEFA should have stuck with a 16 team tournament. Euro 2020 is going to be weird as it won’t actually be hosted anywhere which is a shame. If UEFA stick with 24 (and I have no doubt they will) then few countries could ever host this tournament. We are left with England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy. Even the Netherlands and Belgium had to team up to host Euro 2000. A 16 team tournament would though allow more countries the chance of hosting the event.
(Rooney just scored a penalty)
Now we could argue that Poland and Northern Ireland are better than that but they are ranked this way because they don’t win much. We need to look at the bottom teams. San Marino have won precisely 1 match, a friendly against Liechtenstein. These teams are minnows and are never going to qualify. Now the teams ranked 34 down to 40 might have a good run or a fluky draw and qualify as from about 25 down to 40 in the rankings there isn’t a great deal to separate the teams. So for the majority of international sides in the UEFA qualifying they have little to play for but a nice hammering against a big team or maybe scraping a draw at home to Malta. This can’t be good for these countries and if the game is to truly develop they should be playing more regularly against teams of their own level, rather than expensive away trips to teams who will spank them. It doesn’t benefit Spain or Germany if they beat Andorra 6-0.
In order to remove the meaningless games and create some competition, Football should consider a divisional system like Basketball. FIBA Europe runs a tournament called “The European Championships for the Small Countries”. If UEFA did this, we could have the following play against each other for a trophy. The matches would be competitive and I think it would help these countries develop by playing more matches where they have a chance to win.
Dan Marino, Malta, Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Andorra and Luxembourg could play in this “Division C” champs. It could run in a league format every year. With the winner to progress to “Division B”. Ok, so we are left with 47 teams and still quite a few of the minnow of international football but we are making progress.
Why not have a division B for teams ranking from 16 down to 47? These teams can play off for the remaining 8 spots in UEFA’s European Championships. There would be more meaningful games and something to play for. One could argue that the same teams might always qualify from this pool but a quick look at the teams currently in these rankings and you would struggle to accurately predict the 8 teams who would qualify.
So this leaves us with the top 16 teams in Europe. What do we do with them for UEFA Qualifying. Well, firstly I’d say they are automatically in. But i’d have them play each other to determine seedings for the tournament, not ideal but at least the games would generate interest as they are featuring good teams. There would be promotion and relegation between pool A and B, to keep things interesting. Maybe all the bottom 2 teams in each group at the finals could play each other in relegation to pool B playoff’s.
So, there we have an alternative structure on qualifying for a 24 team UEFA tournament. It needs work and tweaking for sure. It also won’t ever happen and it doesn’t address the issue of world cup qualifying.