|photo by Sandpiper Beacon Beach Resort||via PhotoRee|
I've spent some time during the past several days contemplating the dreaded International Break (okay, not a lot of time, granted, but enough to figure out a solution to an issue that's been vexing me in a matter of minutes). Although it's obviously come at an opportune time for Manchester United -- allowing the players to heal from the various knocks and niggles which have piled up over the course of the season -- I'm not sure I understand FIFA's scheduling logic that led to the break in the first place.
Surely, there has to be a more sensible way to work out the world football calendar than the manner in which it's currently calculated. Just as I begin to get really excited about the EPL run-in, and the eight (or nine) games left on my team's schedule, here comes FIFA and UEFA to tell me to hold it, just calm down and wait a week or two, because we've got important friendlies and Euro qualifiers to play . I know I'm dying to see England square off against Wales, and the USA take on Paraguay, but that could be just me. The dates of those matches have been etched into my mind since...well, since never, actually. In truth, I'm not sure I'll even watch either game (unless I need a column idea).
So let me make a proposal here. Feel free to accept it FIFA, and I won't demand monetary compensation for the idea -- just free tickets for the next World Cup and the naming of the new break as the "FIFA International Break, presented by farlieonfootie." Let's bunch all of the international matches together, and play them over the course of a month, or even six weeks. They could be held over a "winter break," during January, for example, or even at the end of the league season (which would now end in April, of course, rather than mid-May). There. Was that so hard? Here's my logic, as well as a quick look at some of the benfits which occur to all parties:
First off, it would produce greater cohesion to the storylines of the various league title pushes, and allow the fans to become even more engaged than they already are. Gone would be the days in which teams play twice in the league during the month of March, and the fans suffer from fatigue in reading the numerous "will they" or "won't they" stories about their team. Will Arsenal catch Manchester United? Won't Chelsea have the better chance? I don't know (actually, I do know the answer to the first question, and it's "No."), but I would certainly rather find out than watch Austria play Belgium or Italy take on Slovenia right now.
Next, playing together breeds familiarity. Does anyone seriously wonder why the highest quality football is played in the Champions League? It's because these players (in addition to being of various nationalities) practice together day in/day out. They know how their teammates think. They know where they're going to be at any given time. They anticipate moves. That type of comraderie and ESP is extremely difficult to replicate on a national team due to the simple fact that the players don't play together often enough. Four practices and a match just don't cut it -- it's got to be weeks of practice followed by several matches in a row for the telepathy to begin to flow.
My proposal would allow for that. And if it happened, I for one believe that the quality of international football would improve. If the English national team, or the US National Team (well, maybe not the English National team; they're a lost cause under Capello), practiced together every day for a month, and played 5 or 6 matches during that same period, guess what? They'd be better. And it's also my sense that the two camps of coaches -- both club and country -- would approve of my suggestion, as they'd both benefit from the continuity in teaching and playing.
So it's a win-win. We improve the quality of the international football, as well as the quality of the various league storylines and title chases. Simple enough, actually. Do I think it will ever happen? Definitely. About the same time @GrantWahl is elected President of FIFA.
This is farlieonfootie for March 24.