International Football Is Losing Its Soul

The return of club football last weekend only made it more apparent how bland international breaks have become. Besides the major tournaments, international football has become difficult to watch — literally and figuratively. 

Is it just me, or does it feel like there is an international break every three or four weeks nowadays?

In recent years, international football outside of the major tournaments have felt a bit lifeless. At one time, these international matches were a refreshing change, as you got to see players playing purely for their love of country, without the clouded lens of money and  the other dark sides of club football. Why has this changed?

Before adding the Nations League to the international calendar, the only international football people typically watched were the major tournaments and their qualifiers. TV networks picked up these matches and marketed them heavily while making them easily accessible.

Now, with all of the various leagues and qualifiers, all of these games are spread out among different streaming services and are typically quite regionalized. If I wanted to watch France play their EURO 2024 qualifiers while I am in Canada, I might not be able to (legally).

While I love watching CONCACAF, I’d be lying if I said that the super-teams throughout Europe that rival, if not best, the world’s greatest club sides, weren’t more entertaining to watch. In a world where we have been given access to watch anything we want, this odd lack of coverage makes these games feel even more insignificant than they already are.

The second potential reason that these games have felt a bit flat is how short the international breaks have become. For the World Cup and other major tournaments, it’s a month-long festival of football. The whole world celebrates, tunes in, and adds extra energy.

But, when these games are being played months apart, there is a disconnectedness that makes it hard to follow the storylines. It is like reading two chapters of a book in a day and then not picking it up again for seven months. Information will be lost, context will be forgotten, and the connection to the book and its characters will wane. The solution to this is for the federations to schedule fewer games and instead lobby for FIFA to implement longer windows so that people can get more connected to these small cup tournaments.

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The final and arguably most important reason why international football feels hollow, is how federations have been conducting themselves. Corruption has run rife throughout these organizations, and while they claim to have made foundational changes, their actions seem to be following the same misleading path. The awarding of the Qatar World Cup, the lack of concrete work to eradicate racism in the game, and the consistent lack of respect for the women’s game has left a bad taste in most people’s mouths.

So, while they claim the Nations League is to “help grow the game,” it barely veils what these additional games are: a money grab from the federations with bloated executive teams.

Maybe we have misunderstood what these organizations mean by “growing the game.” Most people took it as increasing football’s accessibility and popularity, but it seems more like they meant growing the financial side of the game, taking what was once beautiful, and monetizing every second of it.

Am I just a football pessimist? Or is the reality of international football just so dire?

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