The new season of the UEFA Nations League has been inciting some mixed responses. UEFA and FIFA’s bid to make international matches more competitive and worthy. For the most part, the concept has been working well.
However, the Nations League was met with criticism from one of its stars, Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian maestro called the matches “glorified friendlies,” a feeling that has met varied responses.
🗣Kevin de Bruyne,
"The Nations League is unimportant in my eyes. Just glorified friendlies after a long and tough season. I am not looking forward to it."
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) May 30, 2022
John Stones went the other way, heralding them as great chances to represent your country. On the other hand, Luka Modric and Jurgen Klopp have sided with De Bruyne’s path.
Indeed, the seasons are getting tougher and tougher for players. Nevertheless, calling the Nations League “friendlies” is a bit of a stretch. There is promotion and relegation, along with the big trophy of course.
— FootTheBall FC (@FootTheBallFC) June 5, 2022
The first round of fixtures for the current edition has produced some massive surprises, with none of the top-six European nations winning. Therefore, there is merit to the whole concept of Nations League, especially with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar approaching.
No such thing as friendly
For years, there had been questions regarding the whole idea of international friendlies. Of course it is important to gel with the national teammates. However, the results had no bearing on a nation’s ranking.
In other words, there was nothing to play for, the end objective was just bragging rights. Sports need something at the end of it. Therefore, the solution was to launch the UEFA Nations League, which would function with groups divided on the basis of rankings.
🗣 “We want to compete against the best in Europe.”
Wales boss Rob Page has praised the UEFA Nations League and how it has been good for his side. 🏴 pic.twitter.com/vhmWRX5Ts4
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) June 7, 2022
The tournament was a major success when it began in 2018, with much fanfare and competitive gameplay. Portugal clinched their second international trophy in 2019. UEFA revamped the format after the first iteration, including more teams in the top-tier groups.
There is also talk of including CONMEBOL nations from 2024, with the bond between the two nations strong now as evidenced by the Finalissima. With so many nice initiatives and good projects lined up in the future, why are some players still not on board?
No rest in between
The main issue for players in not about the validity or impact of matches. It is that there are these obligated matches at all, after club seasons end. Player welfare is certainly not high up the ladder for the governing bodies. This was evident again with UEFA expanding the Champions League format from 2024.
The new format of the UEFA Champions League. It will be effective from the 2024-25 season. pic.twitter.com/yBxhbliPPO
— Barça Buzz (@Barca_Buzz) March 3, 2022
The fact that there is hardly two weeks’ rest between the end of the UEFA Nations League and preseason, players have a point being aggrieved.
The demands of league football have seen more injuries and players playing through the pain barrier often. Klopp has been the number one critic of fixture scheduling, venting his grievances all throughout the season.
📺 Jurgen Klopp on private text messages from UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin:
"The Nations League is of the most ridiculous ideas I ever heard." 🔴 pic.twitter.com/4spmL3z1SZ
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) May 13, 2022
He was one of the main proponents to call for the reinstatement of the five-subs rule. Moreover, Klopp engaged in a public feud with Sean Dyche over this issue with the Premier League keeping the three-subs rule.
Nevertheless, De Bruyne’s comments are a timely reminder that even though football is important, it is the players who make up the game that matter more.
The current order
It must have been sobering for De Bruyne to suffer a 4-1 loss against Netherlands at the first try.
The Nations League gives opportunities for all teams to upset the apple cart. The balancing act is key in terms of football as days go on. Of course, matches are important for the public and money.
🤬 𝗠𝗞: “Simon laughs and that is ridicule! Former players ask me ‘What is it with that man?’ Show some respect!”
🔥 𝗦𝗝: “If you listen to players that played for me, you’ll know I’m fair!”
Martin Keown and Simon Jordan get into a 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙 debate over player welfare 👀🍿 pic.twitter.com/24gweOZ2HR
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) May 27, 2022
However, the welfare aspect cannot be overlooked at all. Therefore, the stakeholders have to come to terms on a solution(s) that soothes all parties.
The replacement of friendlies with competitive matches has brought in more revenue and viewership. Nevertheless, nobody likes hearing these kind of comments from the best players in the game.