UEFA Hit and Miss with Radical Euro 2016 Qualifier Shake-Up

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2014

NYON, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 24:  UEFA President Michel Platini (C) speaks as UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino (L) and EURO 2016 SAS Chairman Jacques Lambert (R) look on during a press conference following the UEFA Executive Committee meeting at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football, on January 24, 2014 in Nyon,  Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

In recent years, playing on a Thursday night has had a negative stigma attached to it. "Thursday night! Channel 5!" chanted Manchester United fans at Chelsea in 2012 due to their Europa League participation. (Oh, how the tables have turned in that situation!)

Under new proposals from UEFA, however, we will now be watching vital European international qualifiers on the least favourite evening of the week to view the beautiful game.

As announced by UEFA last week, Europe's governing body are set to introduce "the week of football" concept for Euro 2016. Instead of 20 to 30 Euro qualifiers taking place on the same evening, the games will now be spread from Thursday to Tuesday, with eight to 10 matches per evening instead. 

The same team will play either Thursdays and Sundays, Fridays and Mondays, or Saturdays and Tuesdays. 

For once, UEFA appear to have struck upon a rather good idea.

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 17: UEFA President Michel Platini with President of the Euro 2016 SAS Jacques Lambert, President of the French Football Federation Noel le Graet during the EURO 2016 Steering Committee Meeting, on October 17, 2013 in Marseille,
Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images
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England fans will not have to choose between the torment of watching the Three Lions and the pleasure of seeing their favourite continental stars playing for Spain or Germany—they can probably do both.

The new system will also mean 33 percent of games are played on weekends, as opposed to 10 percent for Euro 2012 qualifiers—and none when double-headers are played on Fridays and Tuesdays.

More weekend games means more potential viewers and revenue for the associations—it's the same reason the Champions League Final has been played on a Saturday since 2010.  

Most importantly, the week of football will give a consistent schedule and fewer international breaks. As someone who has spoken out against dull and disruptive international breaks in the past, this can only be a good thing.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino told the Leaders in Football conference in London that the move to a week of football has been "unanimously approved by all 53 national associations."

In an era in which international football is being usurped by the Champions League as the premier level of football, UEFA should be congratulated for making this move.

However, hold the applause for Michel Platini's motley organisation for just a moment.

France will be hosting Euro 2016, and as the holders, they earn automatic qualification. But thanks to Mr. Platini's influence, they will now also take part in qualification.

Yes, you read that correctly. France are already qualified but they will play meaningless qualification games regardless.  

Michel Euler/Associated Press

The move comes after Ukraine and Poland complained that they were unable to find high quality opposition against whom to play friendlies while everyone else was qualifying for Euro 2012.

It's a fair complaint that Brazil would probably also share, having had no real competitive games to speak of since the 2011 Copa America—something that saw them slide to their lowest ever position in the FIFA World Rankings last June.

But throwing France in with teams who are genuinely trying to qualify is a poor solution to the problem.

Isn't it a conflict of interest to have one side playing competitively in a qualifier and the other not? Isn't it a huge disadvantage to the teams who are not in France's qualification group that they have to play a full complement of teams who are actually trying to qualify?

These French qualifiers are to be known under the deceptively useful name "centralised friendlies." Without Platini at the helm of the organisation thinking of the best interests of his home nation, it seems unlikely they would exist. France's benefit will be the rest of Europe's loss. 

Additionally, with the next European Championships expanded from 16 teams to 24, qualification is going to be more dull than ever. There will be nine group winners, nine runners-up and a subsequent play-off for all of the third-placed teams.

Qualification will be easier than ever and the chances of a side like England missing out—like they did in 2008—are greatly reduced. Furthermore, there will be more weaker sides than ever at the finals, meaning more group games will be uncompetitive rubbers. 

The expansion of the European Championships is not being done in the interest of football. The European game's highest level is being diluted in the interests of higher revenues.

It's no secret that football's governing bodies rank profit margins above all else, but a short-term reach for higher viewing figures might result in more of us turning away from a dull tournament in the long term. 

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