KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON: Europe’s top clubs have yet to understand it but the reality is that their life will be improved when UEFA adds its Nations League to the European Championship and World Cup qualifying schedule.
Gianni Infantino, the European federation’s general secretary, delivered this reassurance after concerns that busy star players would come under even greater fixture pressure.
The Nations League concept was launched by UEFA president Michel Platini in a restructuring of the European qualifying landscape beyond France 2016 and heading towards the continent-wide finals of the 2020 event.
On Wednesday, at the Leaders Sports Summit in London, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had raised fears among his member clubs in the European Club Association about extra demands on players.
However Infantino, on the second day of the conference, said: “When the decision was taken to create the Nations League the ECA and Rummenigge made a statement supporting this decision.
Week of Football
“In fact, under the new international calendar means the number of matches being played by the national teams is not being increased but decreased by one match each year so that helps the clubs.
“Also, the Week of Football concept which has started with the current Euro 2016 qualifying competition means the clubs will see a benefit because two times out of three the players will come back from their national teams one or two days earlier than before.”
Infantino also explained the rationale behind the creation of the Nations League.
He said: “This was a logical development of discussions we had with the federations. There is always an interest in qualifying matches but the interest in friendly games is lower and lower – while our purpose
is to develop football and boost interest in all countries in Europe.
“However you don’t develop players if they know they will lose every match. So by ranking all our national teams in four different divisions with promotion and relegation they are really playing for something against teams of their own level.
“This will also create a new Nations League champion every second year so you create an additional element for the promotion of national team football.”
Champions League change
Later Infantino confirmed changes on the way within the Champions League to place only the holders and the winners of the highest-ranked leagues among the top-seeded teams. The UEFA executive committee is expected to approve the refinement in December.
Currently, UEFA ranks clubs over five years of results, leaving national champions Manchester City, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain among the second-seeded teams this season. Hence Arsenal and FC Porto, who had finished fourth and third in their respective English and Portuguese leagues last season, had been included in the top seeding sector at this season’s draw in August.
Infantino conceded that “people had difficulties in understanding how the champion of a country is in a lower pot than the third ranked in that country.”
* Leaders Business Summit at Chelsea FC, Stamford Bridge, London
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