International Apathy: Problems and Solutions

In this week’s version of his column, Dan Zeqiri discusses the footballing public’s disillusionment with International Football and offers a radical solution..

When Gary Neville used his newly acquired Daily Telegraph column to launch a passionate defence of the England team, many responded with a fair measure of cynicism. The timing, it has to be said, was unfortunate. It came prior to the Norway friendly in September, a fixture that is unlikely to rally anyone around any cause. Neville, in his column, discussed what he assumed to be apathy on behalf of the footballing public with the English national team. However, whether he intended to or not, Neville’s diagnosis hinted at a wider apathy. Namely, a loss of enthusiasm for International Football as a whole.

Many were left underwhelmed by the World Cup post group-stage, particularly by the lack of goals, and this led to inevitable comparisons with the knock-out stages of the Champions League. This pursuit is perfectly futile: the two forms of the game are so vastly different in form that they are beyond comparative analysis. Nevertheless, though international football is commonly referred to as ‘the highest level’, I don’t think it would be that controversial to claim that club football is ‘the highest standard’. Barcelona’s fruitless year last season is a good case study to support this. With Argentina’s best player, Brazil’s best player and Chile’s best player, they won nothing.

There are, however, many virtues possessed by the international game that ensure major tournaments will remain at the very least, the grandest spectacle that football has to offer. There is a good deal of romanticism involved. The concept of representing your country, and playing for the shirt or cap rather than a wage, harps back to the game’s amateur roots. (They do get appearance money; relatively minimal sums that are donated to charity). International football could also be said to be football in its purest form (FIFA’s distinct lack of purity aside). It is the best of what we’ve produced against the best of what you’ve produced, rather than the modern club game, which is more along the lines of the best we’ve managed to accumulate against the best you’ve managed to accumulate. (Often with vast disparities between the two club’s resources).

Notwithstanding all of that, there is an apathy that has developed towards international football. You only need to chat to a few people in your local pub, or glance at your Twitter timeline to find out about the widespread clamour for club football to return this weekend. What has fuelled such disillusionment?

You only need to chat to a few people in your local pub, or glance at your Twitter timeline to find out about the widespread clamour for club football to return this weekend.

The noise created by club football is an ever present din throughout the year. There’s always a result, goal, refereeing decision, player, manager, contract, sacking, scoop or scandal to be discussed. It never ceases, even in the summer which brings about its own sphere of gossip with the transfer window. This side of club football’s nature satisfies our desire for a constant supply of news, theories and conclusions. We are constantly engaged in the competition. If you’re a football supporter it embeds itself into your daily life, manifesting itself in a number of ways such as reading a blog, constantly checking twitter, or searching your club’s name anxiously into Google news.

International football by contrast, offers fans four weeks of excitement every two years. Maybe a few more if you want to include the weeks leading up to a major tournament. The qualifiers are for the most part dry, turgid affairs. If they’re not painfully dull, they’re hideously one sided. There is the odd exception, it should be noted. The 0-0 draw in Rome prior to France 98, the 5-1 in Germany, the home and away games against Turkey prior to Euro 2004, and the four games against Croatia prior to Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. However, in general qualifying rarely throws up pivotal games of high intensity. This problem is only going to be exasperated with more teams being admitted into the European Championships proper. It has become, for the major nations, a matter of jumping through hoops. It’s not the competitive jousting for points we’re accustomed to on a weekly basis.

The qualifiers are for the most part dry, turgid affairs. If they’re not painfully dull, they’re hideously one sided.

If you will forgive me for being temerous, I think I might have a solution to this help alleviate this disillusionment among fans. I tentatively propose that the qualifying for major tournaments would be far more exciting and accessible if condensed into a four week period. This ‘event’ could be held during the summer prior to the major tournament, where there is always a gap (at least in European football). Scrap the cash cow and PR exercise that is the Confederations Cup. What would be left is four weeks of solid football where there otherwise would be none, something most fans would welcome. Results would acquire much more meaning due to the fixtures being held in close proximity, rather than months apart.

There could even be benefits to be reaped by the club game under this proposed system. The gaps in the fixture list, which are now international breaks, could become rest periods. This would give the players a chance to re-charge and recover. The lack of rest, recovery and sheer volume of games have long been considered important issues both for the national side when they head into summer tournaments. This is why many have called for a winter break. However under this hypothetical system such rest periods could be gained without sacrificing the much cherished tradition of Christmas football in England. The rest periods could consist of two weeks in November and two weeks in March, for instance.

One issue I’ve immediately thought of under this proposed structure, is that Roy Hodgson would have much less interaction and time on the training pitch with his players. Or rather, this time is condensed into one intense period rather than staggered throughout the season. There must be other negative implications, or else the idea would have been taken up. But I can’t think of many.

Dan Zeqiri

You can follow Dan on Twitter: @ZeqiriDan

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