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Roker Ramble: National Pride

International football is a tedious bore, so is it time to get tough on the little guys?

England v Scotland - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Let’s face it, outside of a major tournament, England fixtures are a complete waste of everyone’s time and the sooner something’s done about it, the better. In all honesty, who wants to watch England play Malta? Or Andorra, San Marino, or any of the other countries that most of us couldn’t point to on a map if pushed? It’s a completely boring, pointless exercise that has been tolerated for too long, and it’s a no win situation for everyone involved.

It’s a no win for England because we’re expected to beat these teams, so when we do it’s no big deal, if we don’t it’s total doom and gloom – and we really need more of that at the moment. It doesn’t have any effect on performance. We won all ten qualifiers for the European Championships in the summer and it amounted to nothing. We came into the actual tournament as unprepared as it is possible to be.

It’s no win for the smaller nations because they don’t get to play at their own level - they’re always stuck playing ten players behind the ball trying to keep the score down or snatch a draw which makes the whole spectacle tedious.

Observers say the trend is now to ‘enjoy’ the event as a whole so that the actual game itself is of less consequence, but I’m not convinced. If setting up your BBQ in Wembley car park on a wet Tuesday night is your thing then knock yourself out, but I would bet my house on most people wanting to see a good, high quality, competitive game of football that made you start to regain some respect for the national team.

Because I’m sure it’s not a lost cause. Every England player with the gift of speech has said what an honour it is to play for their country – wouldn’t they love to be part of something that wasn’t just an FA marketing exercise aimed at young boys and residents of East London for once?

One of the suggestions to get round the current format would be to have two qualifying competitions, one for the seeds and one for the smaller nations – that way everyone would play more games at their own level. It would mean that some of the seeds wouldn’t qualify for the major tournament and more smaller nations would – which ticks a few boxes in FIFAland, but still doesn’t really get to the nature of the problem.

There’s nothing written down that says we have to have a national team - the US get by without a national baseball or NFL team, probably because they’d have no-one to play against - but if we’re going to have one, then you want it to be the best it can be. You want it to be strong, consistent and to peak at major tournaments. And the only way it can do that is to play more games against better opposition, all of the time.

So – what about this – the non-seeded smaller nations have a guaranteed number of places for the major tournaments, and play qualifying matches against each other to see who'll go through. The seeded teams – say the top ten in each region are guaranteed a place in the tournament so don’t need to qualify. Instead they play each other on a home and away league basis throughout the season in a totally separate competition.

This means that every game the national team play will be against tougher opposition, they’ll play more games – twenty per season as opposed to ten at the moment, the players will get more used to playing in internationals and with each other, there’s more opportunity to blood new players, we get an ongoing exciting international football scene instead of one month every two years and so on.

What about the fixture congestion I hear you say? Reduce the Champions League to the last sixteen knock-out stages only – that should do it, and improve the quality of the product for the viewing public at the same time.

The International League(s) would be a new global football product, generating massive TV revenues - the TV companies would probably wet themselves just at the thought of it. They're so desperate to show more football they’ll show anything that’s available, but give it an international league of the top nations and it would start a bidding war that’ll make Sky TV look like Jackie White’s Market.

The league positions at the end of the season can go towards the seedings in the major tournaments and there can be a relegation clause where the bottom two drop out to let the highest ranked 'smaller' teams move up.

Why not, it’s got to be better than what we’ve got now? Of course FIFA will object to the favouritism aimed at the stronger teams, but for too long they’ve pretended to make decisions based on spreading the gospel of the game to the smaller struggling nations – (hence Qatar), but this doctrine is long out of date. And illegal because they were taking bribes for every decision they made, but hey, we've moved on.

Everyone plays football now whether they have a national team or not, and there’s better ways to help the smaller nations than by denuding the game at the top. You can’t just make Luxembourg stronger by making Germany weaker.

And if we really wanted to inject some life into this idea we could do far worse than give the project to the Americans. The management of their national sports – the NFL, NHL, NBA etc accepts the notion that not everyone is equal, that there’s an elite, and they focus everything on making that elite competitive, compulsive, exciting and fun. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s better than watching England in a goal–less draw with Slovenia.

That’s not to say the teams outside of the top group are going to be left out in the cold, but if we want to see exciting, quality, national football that we can really buy into, then we want to see England play France, Germany, Italy, Spain etc twice every season in games that matter and which are packaged as entertainment to be enjoyed as a spectacle. And that means getting rid of the bloody band as well. And you can set up your BBQ in the car park if you want to.

QPR have appointed Ian Holloway as the replacement for Hasselfloyd Jimmybank, who was sacked last week. The quote I read stated that Holloway ‘spent five years in charge at Rangers during a turbulent spell when they went into administration and were relegated to League 1’.

Prime catch then. Apparently they were also keen on Tim Sherwood, but he’s gone to Swindon as Director of Football. According to the Swindon chairman Lee Power, Luke Williams will remain as Swindon’s head coach, but Sherwood will "head up all aspects, including transfers, the way we play, the formations and the picking of the team”. Ok.

Guess who’s putting the cones out, then.