Make qualifying more of an event by having two long international breaks a year instead of five short ones.
It happens every time. A collective sigh is let out around the country as the last fixture of the weekend ends. The international break is here and not very many people are happy about it. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
International football tournaments are still brilliant. The World Cup and European Championships are so endearing that even when there are matches between teams no one would normally care about people will still watch. In Euro 2016 the lowest rated 5pm game in the UK was Romania v Switzerland and it still got 2.9million viewers. The lowest rated 8pm game was Spain v Croatia which got 4.5million.
Clearly the appetite for international football is still there. The problem is the qualifying and friendly system is so stilted it barely resembles tournaments. You can barely enthuse yourself for it by the time it’s back to club football. The footballing bodies need to make it more of an event and less of an intrusion.
Many theories have been put forward on how to improve qualifying but the simplest answer is to reduce the number of international breaks. This coming season there will be an international break in September, October, November, March and at the end of the season. Any European team that qualifies for the 2018 World Cup automatically will only play friendlies in November and March and then probably more just before the tournament. It’s just stupid.
A calendar with just two international breaks makes much more sense. Get rid of the breaks in September, November and any after the season that aren’t in a tournament year. Instead have two longer breaks in October and March. In a non-tournament year these would be four weeks each. In a tournament year the March break would only have to be two weeks for the play-offs and for qualified teams to have friendlies.
In the 2016-17 season England played nine games. In this new calendar there is space for eight. The only game that would have been dropped would have been the idiotic June friendly against France. Friendlies at the end of the season are a farce. Jesse Lingard, Ben Gibson and Fraser Forster could have gone on holiday – instead they sat on the bench and watched England play football badly.
The potential criticism is that fans wouldn’t appreciate the extended international breaks. However, there would actually be less time spent with the national team overall which many would appreciate. Fans might enjoy the breaks more for the fact they are less frequent.
The standard of football should also improve. It is increasingly apparent that many international teams have a basic style of play as there is little time to get ideas across to players. This is why limited players with one trick, like Andros Townsend, can perform well for England. Longer training camps will give international managers longer to create a style of play.
International football doesn’t have to be as crap as it is. International breaks don’t have to be hated.