It’s been a deeply disappointing and long week, with no Premier League football to look forward to this weekend it has really dragged. Especially after such a poor result and performance at the weekend, we the fans, really want to see the Reds regroup and bounce back with a decent result in response; what we didn’t want was an International break.
But instead what did we have to look forward to this weekend? A charity match at Anfield that will see a number of former Liverpool greats line up alongside one another, a great occasion but hardly one that will determine the future of our great club; and then there is the European Championship qualifiers. Even now my level of enthusiasm for the subject is starting to wain.
Perhaps I’m being unpatriotic, but the thought and anticipation of England against Lithuania hardly fills me with the same kind of excitement that every other weekend provides, watching Liverpool continue their progress under Brendan Rodgers. The result for England was reasonable enough, but I’m afraid I can’t feel excited for Man Utd striker Wayne Rooney’s goal that took him one step closer to becoming the all time top scorer, nor could I feel any particular delight for Tottenham’s Harry Kane scoring on his England debut. On the plus side Raheem Sterling found the net, but truth be told I was more concerned about the impact it would have on the remainder of our season; the possibility of him being exhausted by a grueling 90 minutes running around the Wembley turf, or worse still, the risk of injury.
The result for England was a success, but there’s something tedious about watching the minnows of Europe with absolutely no chance of getting a result up against a team of over paid millionaire superstars. It’s no longer sport, even the one off FA Cup occasion when non-league sides face their Premier League counter parts offers more by way of competition than this. It makes me wonder whether International football has a shelf life, and just possibly – with the fiasco of Qatar 2022 being a standout example of the corruption inherent in the current system – it is time for a change? A change in which we finally allow domestic football to take the lead and dispose of this dreary and outdated distraction.
“You can’t scrap International football!” I hear people yell in voices of utter disdain, “What about the World Cup?”
The World Cup is an amazing tournament, there’s no doubt about that. I can’t deny that a summer of almost non stop football makes me quite giddy just thinking about it. I am one of the first to get hold of a brand new World Cup wall chart, arrange annual leave to ensure I am able to see the maximum number of games possible, and count the days until the tournament begins. But why? What appeal does the tournament really have?
Firstly, it is football. During the summer there is no domestic football so other than scanning through the tabloids for nonsense transfer speculation, it provides me with something to fill the gap in my life that the summer break often brings. At the early stages there are three to four televised games per day, it’s like being in heaven with so much football at my finger tips.
Secondly, it involves the world’s best players – or at least most of them – all in one tournament, and squeezed into a small window of the summer break. The likes of Messi, Neymar and Suarez all playing in the same competition, not to mention the likes of Ronaldo, Gerrard, Sanchez, Neuer and Shaqiri to name just a handful of others. But wait a moment, does this not sound rather familiar to another tournament that already exists? (Albeit spread across the course of a season)
Last year’s World Cup in Brazil had its moments, the absolute humiliation of the host nation at the hands of eventual winners Germany possibly being the main highlight; but there were also a number of things to feel rightly disappointed with. Consider this; the form of Ronaldo and Messi, arguably the two great players of their generation and both were relatively insignificant throughout the tournament, add to that Suarez’s minor indiscretion which caused him to bow out at the group stages, Marco Reus and (pre-Man Utd) Radamel Falcao’s absence due to injury, and of course Zlatan Ibrahimovic who’s Sweden side failed to qualify for the tournament. Then there’s Welshman Gareth Bale, possibly one of the greatest players who may never get a chance to shine on world football’s biggest stage (certainly one of the most expensive) and all because of where he was born. What if John Barnes had chosen to represent Jamaica instead of England?
The fact is, did we really see the best of the world’s top players during the World Cup? Sure, some players took their chances, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez were outstanding and both earnt high profile moves to Real Madrid. And that is the truth of the matter, for many players and agents alike the World Cup is like a shop window where they can put their talents on display and hopefully earn a big money move on the back of a few great performances – Liverpool fans will remember how that worked out for El Hadji Diouf. The World Cup provides an opportunity for players to enhance their domestic profiles, it is no longer the ultimate aim for top players.
International football is less about watching great players playing great football, but rather watching smaller nations stifling the larger ones. In today’s game, the world’s best players spend weeks and months, day in day out, honing their skills to fit within a team structure of professionals all training towards the ultimate goal. Then we take them out of their domestic setting and throw them into an unfamiliar setting, with an ever changing squad and a complete mix of talents and experience and then we expect them to perform to the same high standards instantly.
It has long been accepted that to succeed in the domestic game you need consistency, so why would the International scene be any different? A team made up of players from a huge variety of teams are surely going to find it far harder to strike up any kind of cohesion and understanding than those where the majority of players train every week together.
Between 2008 and 2012 Spain won all 3 major trophies available, and during that time La Liga was dominated by just two sides. It comes as no surprise that in 2014, the first year since Valencia in 2004 that an intruder had deposed Real and Barca from the La Liga top spot, and Spain suffered one of their worse tournament performances of recent times and their dominance of World football was at an end. Contrast that with Germany, the year that Bayern romped to success over the Bundesliga in record timing, and the national side marched on to victory in Brazil. Coincidence?
Cut to the chase; the world is getting smaller and International football is becoming irrelevant. Do we need a major International football event in the summer with teams trying to gel players together who have spent the previous nine months fighting tooth and nail against or can we instead incorporate this into a continuation of the club setting? How about a 32 club tournament featuring the best sides from each continent – the majority being from Europe and South America? It would feature the majority of the world’s best players – much like the World Cup – but with a far higher quality of football because these teams all play together on a regular basis. At the moment there is already the World Club Cup, but that is a grossly substandard tournament in which Europe & South America provide just a single participant each, and they play a maximum of two games. If FIFA placed the same impetus into the World Club Cup as it does the current World Cup, the benefits (particularly financial) would be immense.
A proper summer event featuring the best club sides in world football would be a true football extravaganza for the fans, a thing of beauty with real footballing merit. But there is no way world football could support similar tournaments for club and International football alike. The World Cup was introduced because it brought each of the domestic leagues together for a short period in the summer because it was the best and most practical way of doing so. In today’s world that is no longer the case. World football is already so interactive, the ability to travel has never been so easy, and club football has never been so commercially successful or widely covered by the media.
So why is this relevant to us Liverpool fans? Because it’s the future. Maybe not in the next few years, but certainly as FIFA becomes more aware of the ever increasing financial possibilities of a world club tournament it won’t be too far away and that means Liverpool need to be in pole position. We need to be set up in a way that will maintain a position in domestic football for years to come. We can’t afford to find ourselves falling behind or it will become increasingly harder to recover. We need to plan for succession with continuation of a philosophy that can be handed down through generations and not just lost with the coming of each new manager.
I predict now that at some stage we will say goodbye to the World Cup as we know it, it may happen over a protracted period of time in a number of stages, but it will happen. I for one won’t be too disappointed, sure there’s a certain nostalgic and traditional enjoyment from International football, but anything that interferes with my enjoyment for my one true club is always expendable. After all, family first.
By Ernie Fox