Club or country?

SO how was it for you? The international break, I mean. Was it a time of excitement? Or was it a period of indifference, as if the season had been put on hold and the plot lines of club football suspended for international matches that may have had some benefit for managers and players but had limited appeal for the fan?

The question is relevant because international football has its enemies more powerful than the fan, interested or not. There is a vacuum at the heart of UEFA and FIFA that big clubs are seeking to fill. One sees this in the attempts to revamp the Champions League, making it the showpiece for a cartel rather than a competition for champions. International football has little appeal for the big clubs. They will reluctantly accept the argument that the World Cup, the European Championships and, to a lesser degree, the Copa America showcases football, increasing its profile.

But they are also aware that these competitions impact on the health of their players and also take up time that could be profitably used by clubs to indulge in mini tournaments of their own. The attitude of clubs is increasingly that they are playing the players’ wages, they are playing in four club competitions and international football is, at best, an irritant.

There have already been murmurings in boardrooms on this issue. They see the difficulty of hitting international football by refusing to release players. But, increasingly, they are determined to do something about a culture that takes their employees from them and returns them tired or even injured.

One proposal is to seed the major tournaments, meaning that a core of big nations would not have to pass through qualifying competitions. Thus such as Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Spain would arrive at the finals of tournaments without need to playing 10 or so qualifiers over a couple of years. A token number of spots would be restricted for countries to play for in a qualifying scramble.

There would be a two-tier season at international level, similar what is happening to the club game. There will be protests, even cries about national pride. But they cannot compete with the power of cash.

BY HUGH MACDONALD

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