This is a fortnight where the most boring event of the football season takes place the international break. The two words “international” and “break” are the most depressing combination of words – apart from “Donald” and “Trump” and “Vince” and “Russo” – that the English language can produce. The Premier League season has just got started we’re getting used to the new players and managers we’ve had the Champions League draw – and no we go to sleep for a fortnight. International breaks are so boring. And I’ve got a plan to get rid of them and I’ll get to that later.
If the boredom that the international break was the only problem international football causes that would be bad enough. But it is now causing another abomination that started last night. Namely the Checkatrade Trophy (what a terrible name!). But that is not the Trophy’s only problem. The competition used to be for League 1 and 2 (3rd and 4th tier) clubs and gave them their most realistic chance of a Wembley Cup Final appearance*. The Football League (FL) in their infinite (lack of) wisdom decided to include Academy teams of Premier League (PL) clubs. But the plan has not gone well to put it mildly. First of all Liverpool, Arsenal,the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham wanted nothing to do with it meaning that Academies from Championship (second tier) sides were put in to make up the numbers. Secondly the fans of lower division clubs did not approve of the idea (to put it mildly). Last night the hashtag B team Boycott was trending on Twitter and attendances were tiny – 392 at Fleetwood, 461 at Wimbledon and 585 at Accrington for example. And to show how seriously clubs took it Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth – who is aged 43 and retired three years ago – named himself as substitute for his club’s game against Northampton and came on. Exeter manager Paul Tisdale named himself as an unused substitute and three teams had 15 year olds in their squads one of whom – Luton – had to ask permission of Connor Tomlinson’s headmaster to let him play (in my opinion the headmaster should have refused. As I wrote in a previous post “Hey football! Leave Them Kids Alone!” 15 year olds should not be at professional clubs anyway).
So if the fans don’t want this tournament in this format and the clubs are so disinterested they are filling their squads with 43 year old managers and schoolchildren why on earth does it exist in its current form? This is where international football is to blame. The practice of top division Academy/B teams has been borrowed from Spain where B teams of top division clubs play in the lower divisions. They can go as far as the second tier but cannot be promoted to the top division even if they finish in the promotion spots (which Atletico Madrid’s B team did in 1998-99). Now because Spain won three international trophies in a row between 2008 and 2012 the English authorities have got into their heads that Spain are doing something right so they want to copy Spain thinking it will improve the England team. Conveniently forgetting that before 2008 Spain had won nothing for 44 years and even botched their own World Cup in 1982. Secondly the authorities don’t realise that most football fans -at whatever level of the game – prefer their own clubs to the national team. I don’t think fans should be forced to see their team play Premier League Academy teams or go through yawn inducing breaks or lose their top players just to prop up a form of the game that is inferior to club football-as Euro 2016 proved – and is discriminatory because your chances of winning at international level depends on a lottery of birth which is not fair.
In my ideal world men’s international football would cease to exist. But since we are not in an ideal world we should allow the clubs to play on Saturday, the national team on Wednesday and the clubs on the next Saturday. And there is an easy solution. The European qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup consists of nine six team groups. The group winners qualify while the eight best runners up go into four playoffs for four more places. Why not have thirteen groups of four teams with the winners qualifying? It would mean countries playing six qualifiers instead of ten (or twelve in the case of play offs.) It would simplify the qualifying process as only group winners would qualify. With fewer games then you could play them midweek or in the summer – as was done in Britain until the Qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup – you could get rid of yawn inducing international breaks.
Getting rid of the Checkatrade Trophy in its current form and the international break might not please the FA and FIFA – who have a vested interest in international football as it maintains their power – but most football fans prefer club football and they should not have to put up with the Checkatrade Trophy in its current form or boring international breaks on the (unlikely) chance it helps a team they don’t give a toss about be able to beat Iceland in a last sixteen game in a future international tournament.
*However fourth teir team Bradford City did get to the League Cup Final in 2013.
**Originally there were seven groups of six and two groups of five but Gibraltar and Kosovo were added to the tournament after the draw was made. Ludicrous. They joined FIFA too late and should not be allowed to take part – especially Gibraltar which is not even an independent country and will only get hammered anyway.