UEFA Nations League: An experiment that could go either way

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Yeah, it’s a little complicated. Source: UEFA.com

Something that went a little under the radar this week in the world of football was UEFA’s announcement of a new international tournament, the UEFA Nations League.

The basic principle, try to stick with it as it is a little convoluted, is that 55 teams will be competing in four separate league containing four groups in each starting in September 2018. The winners of the groups will be promoted to the next league, the bottom team in each of those groups are relegated.

The four winners of League A will compete in a knockout round called the Final Four, that will take place in June 2019. It will be replacing friendlies during the autumn period and will happen every two years in between the other two major international competitions.

Did you keep up? It’s a lot to take in.

It is a good move for those that hate irrelevant friendlies as it eliminates most of them other than those before a tournament. With more of the international breaks either devoted to qualifying or to the Nations League, there will be less fluff and more emphasis on building a team that can compete at any occasion.

That, in turn, may improve the quality of international football during the season. With more games meaning something, teams are more likely to play strong starting line-ups and that consistency will also help managers in building a proper squad rather than piling up those that did well for their clubs.

UEFA do say in their reveal piece that it will not increase their workload, which is true during the season, but for the bigger teams in the Final Four of the tournament it surely would. While it may take the place of some summer friendlies that would usually occur, it will be much more competitive and for those in nations like Spain or Germany that may get to the finals regularly, it could tire out their players in an already hectic schedule.

It will also be an unwelcome addition to the season for club sides, who will not be happy that their players are playing more competitive fixtures. That opens them up to potentially more injuries during the season and potential to need extra time off after the summer finals.

Whether it is a tournament that really catches fire remains to be seen. It’s not the best idea but it’s also not the worst, with the incentive of performing well in the lower divisions giving you a real chance of making the European Championships rather than the convoluted third-place system for Euro 2016.

However, it will be the competitive nature at the top that will be the real factor. Competing against teams of a similar level will help show a measuring stick ahead of a big championship but will those teams also clamour for the title or will it be a glorified friendly tournament.

Again, only time will tell. The best case scenario is it makes international football a little more exciting overall as it improves competitiveness or it implodes with the extra work load and potential lack of enthusiasm for another tournament.

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