UEFA fact checks Courtois’ outburst on congested calendar and money

By Samindra Kunti and Paul Nicholson

October 12 – The Belgium and Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has criticised UEFA and FIFA for the congested international match calendar, labelling the third-place play-off between his national team and Italy in the Nations League “a money game”. He argued that UEFA don’t care for player welfare. 

Money game it may be, but UEFA has pointed out that the European governing body “does not keep any of the revenues from the UEFA Nations League, which are entirely redistributed to its national associations. These revenues fund the organisation and promotion of football all over Europe.”

UEFA also corrected Courtois’ assertion that there were suddenly more games than previously scheduled, saying that the Nations League has not increased the number of matches for national teams.

“The UEFA Nations League is played on dates of the international match calendar. It’s introduction was meant to support national team football with meaningful, balanced and exciting matches at all levels, which has actually happened thanks to the fact that all teams have objectives to achieve in the competition. It has not increased the overall number of matches played by national teams,” said UEFA.

The European champions defeated Belgium 2-1 to claim bronze in the second edition of the Nations League tournament, but both teams rotated their starting eleven after the semi-finals in midweek. “We are not robots,” said Courtois. “It’s just more and more games and less rest for us and nobody cares about us. When will we get a rest? Never.”

Football’s calendar has become more congested because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Various major tournaments, including Euro 2020 and the Copa America, had to be postponed and the Champions League last eight was completed at a record pace.

Next year, the calendar will remain squeezed with Qatar staging the World Cup in winter and UEFA planning the third edition of the Nations League finals in June 2023. FIFA, meanwhile, wants to stage the World Cup every two years after director of development Arsene Wenger outlined plans for a shorter cycle in the international game. This is on top of their ambition to build out their Club World Cup.

“Next year we have a World Cup in November, we have to play maybe until the latter stages of June again,” said Courtois. “We will get injured. So in the end top players will get injured and injured and injured. It’s something that should be much better and much more taken care of.”

UEFA has opposed Zurich’s biennial revolution as well as the European Super League but that didn’t prevent Courtois from arguing that Nyon cares little for player welfare. “They are against Super League but they just do the same, they put extra games,” said the Belgian number one. “They made an extra trophy. It is always the same. They can be angry about other teams wanting a Super League but they don’t care about the players, they just care about their pockets.”

In response to Courtois claims on the creation of an extra club competition, UEFA were equally dismissive of his assertions, and pointed to their website for fact checking information on the league and saying: “The UEFA Europa Conference League has been introduced by UEFA upon strong demand of middle and small sized clubs, who need more opportunities to participate in European competitions. In no way can this competition be seen as additional burden on overloaded players. Revenues from the UEFA Europa Conference League are essential resources for participating clubs.”

In 2018, UEFA introduced the Nations League to rejuvenate international football and incentivise national teams with a competitive tournament instead of friendlies. Portugal won the maiden edition in 2019 and on Sunday, in the competition’s second final, world champions France defeated Spain 2-1 in Milan to banish memories from their early exit at Euro 2020.

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