When UEFA and its member countries take a decision to fundamentally restructure the way in which international football, within its continent, is played, it ought not to concern the rest of the global fraternity.
What European football does within its borders is, in principle, their prerogative.
BUT – and this is a big but, obviously – when a continental decision is taken without any cognisance of the effect that it would have on the WORLD game, of which they supposedly remain a part, that is a completely different kettle of fish.
Here’s the scenario – UEFA’s 54 nations, from 2018, will be divided into four divisions in a regular league format – from A (for the top-ranked countries like England, Germany and France) down to D (for minnows like the Faroe Islands, San Marino and Luxembourg).
Each division will be subsequently divided into four pools, each having four teams, in which teams will be promoted and relegated.
All the games played will count in qualifying for the 2020 European Championship (and subsequent ones), which will also be played in a new format.
And the matches can, obviously, only be played within the restrictions of an already loaded match calendar.
So, here’s the obvious question: How will European teams, who will also have to feature in separate World Cup qualifiers, controlled by FIFA, have the time to play against non-European teams outside of the World Cup finals?
The African perspective, as was robustly discussed, at a recent gathering of the continent’s FA presidents in Johannesburg, is that a European Nations League would effectively end the tradition of teams from different continents being able to play international friendlies against each other.
“There is a very strong reaction, from my colleagues, on what UEFA is planning to do,” Isha Johansen, president of the Sierra Leone Football Association, said in a recent television interview.
“The impression we get is that UEFA is no longer interested in its members playing international games against teams from other parts of the world.
“How will UEFA’s plan help in promoting solidarity within world football?”
“This is not a proposal that we expect from a UEFA headed by Michel Platini, who is thinking about becoming the FIFA president,” Johansen said.
But Platini’s disdain, for the tradition still valued by Johansen and her African colleagues, couldn’t have been made any clearer, when the European Nations League plans were announced.
“Friendlies don’t really interest anybody – neither the fans nor the players nor the media and nor the national associations,” said Platini. “This is a good decision because nobody wants these friendlies.”
Considering the additional television money that the new format will earn for UEFA’s members, to be generated from the excitement of competitive games played on a regular basis, the reaction from officials like Alex Horne, the general secretary of England’s FA, is hardly surprising.
But Horne’s remarks that UEFA’s plan will “bring a nice rhythm to the international calendar” will certainly not go down well in other parts of the world, who will feel they are being shafted, as a new order in Europe is created.
Should the European Nations League become as financially successful as the Champions’ League – which is a serious possibility – UEFA will be taking a further step to entrench their dominance of the established world football order.
That, however, will not be meekly accepted by Africa and the other continents, for whom international friendlies remains an important tradition that needs to be kept – even if reforms are needed.
European football will not have the ability to win friends and influence people if it takes decisions that clearly further its own interests but ignores the needs and feelings of other parts of the global fraternity.
Next year’s FIFA presidential elections, in which Platini might decide to contest, is likely to serve as a poignant reminder of that.
Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org
Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.