International football is not what it used to be. Whilst Spain and Uruguay currently hold the three major titles of world football, having done so with admirable style and panache, all is not well further down the food chain.
For the most part, the 2010 World Cup was an uninspiring slog of attrition. In comparison to modern club scene, international football just can’t seem to keep up. In terms of prestige and quality, continental and national leagues are now the dominent competitions in world football to the point that even the World Cup is in danger of losing its untouchable glamour to the Champions League.
Perhaps it is time to reform international football with a new format that can compete with the club competitions with some truly radical ideas. Below are five rather ‘out there’ suggestions for adding an new dimension to the global scene. Some proposals are more practical than others…
1. Bonus points
Last summer in South Africa, the lack of positivity from the majority of the competition’s contenders made for an underwhelming spectacle. When Brazil and Holland have reverted to strong-arm counterattacking, you know something must be going wrong!
In the Rugby Union World Cup, bonus points are awarded to teams scoring four or more tries, or losing by a margin of seven points or less. Perhaps such a system could be utlitised in international football to safeguard against boringly stilted conservative play. Obviously Rugby match scores are usually far larger than those of a football match, with differently weighted scoring objectives notched up more regularly. Good defending also deserves recognition alongside attacking play.
Bonus points in football could be handed out based on statistics. Rather than cueing up incentives for under-utilised possession or amassed but futile long shots however points could instead be awarded for more dynamic stats such as high chance conversion rates and team tackle success percentages.
With extra points up for grabs, parking the bus would become a less attractive option for minnows and cautious powerhouses alike, with incentives for more proactive play both in the league tables of qualifying rounds and the group stages of major tournaments. The humbugging of characterless, reactive international football cannot continue!
2. Age caps
Age caps already exist within Olympic football, ultimately a tournament for under 23’s with an allowance for three ‘over-aged’ players per team, and perhaps other international competitions should follow suite. With club tournaments such as the Champions League becoming the preeminent stage for footballing flory, forcing national teams to focus on exciting prospects and enthusiastic youngsters could add a new dimension to international football.
The World Cup, Copa America and European Championships could all become under-26 affairs, with an allowance for four ‘over-aged’ players. International football would once again become a hotbed proving ground for lesser known talents full of exciting surprise discoveries and obscurities.
3. Less is more
Play less games. With an already over-sized annual fixture calendar for most top-level footballers, the international breaks can become an injury risk annoyance for fans and exhausting bridge too far for players.
By reducing the number of games, prestige and relevancy would increase for international matches. By cutting down on friendlies and streamlining qualifying rounds during club seasons, international games could becomes special occasions once more. Less fixtures would mean fresher, fitter footballers too; more able to perform at their very best rather than running themselves down, on empty, into breathless misery.
4. Up the regions, down with the seeding
Forget the home nations or qualifying groups and replace such formats with regional league competitions.
Inspired by South American football’s marathon World Cup qualifying league, teams would play in geographic specific groups. Think of the historic rivalries, the regional passions and bragging rights and how much they’ve been missing from international football in recent years.
5. Elitists unite!
The Euro’s in 2008 was a tournament of proactive, attacking football. Considering the teams that qualified for it and succeeded, perhaps rather controversially, we should do away with qualifying all together, and invite teams into top level competitions instead. The current ranking system would have ben overhauled, of course, and such a format would be incredibly elitist and biased towards the big nations, but surely the football would improve without the mangled efforts of the minnows, and England.