Apathy towards international football is something which has steadily crept into the public consciousness since the creation of the Premier League in 1992. When we look at the language commonly used about it, we can’t be shocked by this.
Ally this to the fact that fans will generally choose club over country in the artificial construct of ‘club v country’. A context is created where clubs and their supporters are pitched into opposition against managers of national sides. Injuries to players accrued on international duty are spoken of in terms of potential financial implications by managers and the international break is generally spoken of with irritation by fans deprived of seeing their clubs in action. It isn’t hard to see how a meaningless friendly would fail to capture the imagination against this backdrop.
It would be wrong to lay all of the blame with the clubs though. The administrators of the international game have done a great deal of work to devalue their own product and play into the hands of naysayers. UEFA, with their expansion of the 2016 European Championships to 24 teams from a more manageable 16 and FIFA, with their awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, have played fast and loose with international football’s big prizes in recent years. The only rational response to these decisions and the many others like them made by governing bodies is to despair of the processes that begat them.
Another understandable response is the one which met England last week-when the custodians of the international game make such dreadful decisions about the family jewels. Can we as fans really expect to blindly play along and passively endorse such folly every time the collection tin comes around?
Related to this, and something that Euro 2016’s format will do nothing to remedy, is the nose-to-tail scheduling that is now a fact of life for footballers and clubs. Football is ubiquitous and each move to try to crack a ‘new market’ produces more football which further tightens the garrotte around the neck of that golden egg-laying goose. Pre-season exhibition matches in far-flung destinations and meritless qualifiers against minnow nations on damage-limitation missions are but two examples of the over-production that casts a shadow on football today.