Roy Hodgson and other coaches can talk all they want about opportunities to test new players and new formations, but the whole international friendly scene is feeling more and more useless; a foundation for FA’s to make a few extra dollars/euros/pounds while disrupting the flow of club football which people actually care about and putting players at risk of injury.
It once was a chance to claim one player when a dual nationality was involved, like Wilfried Zaha who’ll be playing for England against Sweden. But FIFA regulations state that until he has played an official match for England, he can still opt out and play for his over “nation”, the Ivory Coast. Raheem Sterling, also eligible for Jamaica, where he was born, is a similar case.
No one in club football likes these midweek pauses, players taken away for a few days to play in matches that mean nothing. There’s nothing really to do about World Cup and continental competitions qualifiers, but they tend to be a pain in the a$$ for managers, clubs and fans alike. Few are the national teams that pack their stadiums during international weeks, especially with a very unattractive list of rivals lined up most of the time.
Is there a way to solve it? First is cancelling the international friendly fixtures, or at least those weeks that are dedicated for friendlies alone. Just feels useless. Nothing is gained for anyone from it. Only the risk of injuring players. Brazil and their Nike contract can carry on doing what they like, regardless of the meaninglessness of it all.
Now, the qualifications can be reduced into suitable arrangements. At least in Europe, most leagues have some sort of winter break, although in England they prefer to wear out the players. Making a vast winter break during December – January for six weeks or something of the sort opens up a window for international matches, and condense the qualifiers into these winter breaks, doing the first round of matches a year before the next. There is the problem of other continents and their schedule, but maybe it’s time to move both South America and Europe to the same kind of active-inactive schedule.
Another answer that means no tinkering with schedules is simply making a lot more groups in the UEFA qualifiers. Groups of three teams instead of five or six, and all the winners, only the winners of the groups, after playing 4-6 qualifying matches make it into a two leg playoff which decided the fate of who makes it or not into the major tournament.
But… FIFA and UEFA and FA’s in general don’t like change. Especially one which hurts and takes away from their power and their opportunity to make money. Instead of focusing on what’s good for football and its fans, it’s better to go on with obsolete traditions that mean nothing to most.