It’s international week again and, for the fourth time in as many months since the Euros, the football world lets out a collective “meh”.
Today’s friendlies mean nothing to anyone. Except apparently FIFA, who decided to schedule a round of non-competition internationals to fuel their dual fantasy that International friendlies are as important to crowds as the local stuff.
It’s not that friendlies aren’t important, but poorly timed. English Premier League clubs have managed eleven league matches each since the season began in August. By today’s end, we will have seen seven international matches. Joe Hart, the England goalkeeper, has already played 26 matches since June.
In November, you can be certain of three things: that some domestic seasons are just getting interesting (like the English Premiership or the A-League, where league saviour Alessandro Del Piero’s coach has just resigned), that playoffs are in full swing (as with the Asian Champions League and MLS) and that Chelsea have begun their annual holiday.
In arranging this new slate of games, FIFA’s reasoning is almost sound. They finds themselves trapped in a corner of a world demanding constant attention: with a six month break between matches, the administrators risk the International game being even further overshadowed by local affairs. It’s not too long a bow to draw to suggest a random football fan from Jamaica, Uzbekistan or Egypt knows more about this year’s UEFA Champions League machinations than their home nation’s last friendly result. Their half-baked solution? More international football.
The fact is that the marketplace is flooded with football. You’d think the market is so large that flooding it would be something of a logical impossibility, but you’d be wrong. Almost without exception, every domestic league in the world has operated within the past month; not only were the European Championships this summer, but also the Olympics and the annual Carlos Tevez transfer saga.
Football fans have had no respite from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sasa Ognenovski and Ashley Cole’s Twitter account for over a year.
International football is, simply, a wonderful product. The World Cup is a celebration of football the Champions League Final can never replicate. Almost every major International tournament comes with a wholesome quality lacking when players are bought or sold for exorbitant sums. You can think of International football as Organic football, taking time and care to mature.
Those who control future international fixturing now face a decision. When controlling such a unique (organic) product, you can approach the market in one of two ways: make your offering boutique and desirable, or compete against products which are different/plastic/a billionaire’s playground (delete as appropriate).
International football should always be relevant; however, competing with a glitzier – but not necessarily better – product, it has fallen into byline territory. It’s time for football federations the world over to market International football as what it is: a boutique product that offers much that the domestic game cannot.