UEFA’s new ‘Nations League’ competition to replace international friendlies from 2018 has been hailed as an “exciting” development by the Football Association.
FA general secretary Alex Horne said the new competition, which will also provide four qualification places for Euro 2020, would give England some glamour ties against other top countries in Europe.
UEFA confirmed the new competition at its Congress and the 54 European member countries will be split into four divisions, with England set to be in a top division of 12 to 16 teams along with Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Holland.
Horne, speaking to Press Association Sport after the UEFA Congress in Astana, Kazakhstan, said: “The prospect of England playing three or four teams from the best 12 or 16 countries in Europe on a home and away basis should be very exciting.
“It means we will go from a major tournament such as a World Cup straight into a set of three international double-headers between September and November that will really mean something.
“There will be the threat of relegation too so there will really be something at stake.”
The new tournament will be played every two years on the dates currently reserved for friendlies, building up to a final in the June of odd-numbered years.
Each country will play two or three other nations in their division on a home and away basis with the winner of each mini-league going to a climax of semi-finals and final at a neutral venue.
The winner of each division will win qualification for Euro 2020, but there will be some friendly dates kept to allow countries to play preparation games before major tournaments.
It is expected that TV rights income will be organised in a similar way to the Champions League, with half the money distributed on the basis of the value of each country’s TV rights and half on a more equal basis via participation payments and match bonuses.
The new competition will cause considerable change to the international calendar however, and one effect could see the final places for qualification for Euro 2020 not decided until the March, just three months before the tournament.
UEFA president Michel Platini announced the new competition at a press conference and said it would replace friendlies that “nobody wants”.
Platini said: “The friendlies don’t really interest anybody - neither the fans nor the players nor the media and nor the national associations.
“This is a good decision because nobody wants these friendlies.”
The timing of the Nations League could conflict with proposals to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to the winter, however.
Platini added: “I think we will adapt ourselves - the World Cup is the priority. I don’t know when it will take place in 2022 but we will organise this with respect to those dates.”
UEFA said the key driver behind the Nations League is “sporting integrity”, saying there is an increasing feeling in the game that international friendlies do not provide adequate competition.
The governing body also believes the new tournament will help improve the quality and standing of international football, as it will allow all nations to play competitively at their level.
UEFA explained in a statement: “The Nations League and the Euro qualifiers will be linked, with the new competition allowing an extra chance to qualify for Euro final tournaments.
“The competition and proposed amended qualifying formats for the European qualifiers, starting with Euro 2020, came after a thorough consultation process with UEFA’s member associations, which began in 2011.”
The exact format of the Nations League has yet to be finalised and will be the subject of further discussions between the associations, but the concept is for the 54 national teams to be divided into four large divisions according to coefficient rankings.
The statement continued: “Prior to Euro 2020, each division will be sub-divided into four pools of three or four teams, so each team plays four to six matches between September and November 2018.
“The final four competition, involving the four pool group-winners of group A, will start in 2019, whereas play-offs for the Euros will then take place in March 2020.
“National teams will thus either be competing to become Nations League champions, or be fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation in their groups, as well as to qualify for Euro play-offs.”
Nations’ League key points
• There will be four divisions, each containing 12-14 teams based on UEFA’s coefficients. England and other top European sides will be in Division A.
• Each division will have four mini-leagues - so England would play three or four other Division A teams on a home-and-away basis between September and November 2018.
• The winners of each mini-league go into their division’s semi-finals and then final at a neutral venue in June 2019. Each division winner will qualify for Euro 2020 meaning one of the smaller nations in Division D will be guaranteed a place at the Euros.
• The remaining 20 qualification places for Euro 2020 will be decided via the usual qualifying groups in matches played from 2019, possibly going on as late as March 2020.
• Four of Europe’s 13 qualifying places for the 2022 World Cup may also be decided via the top two divisions of the Nations League.
• TV income is likely to organised in a similar way to the Champions League, with each country being awarded half the value of its Nations League TV rights deal, and the rest shared out across the 54 nations via participation money and match bonuses.