Club Football vs International Football – What’s The Difference?

Every professional footballer has affiliations to a club side and a national team. Many times in the past, clashes and conflicts have arisen in the club vs country debate involving players.

However, which one truly comes out on top?

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between club and international football.

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What is the difference between club football and international football?

When discussing club football and international football, some basic differences must be taken into account. Here is an analysis of these differences by comparing various factors:

Number of competitions

At the club level, teams participate in multiple competitions at once. This will differ from one country to the other, but there is usually a league competition that spans the entire season.

Furthermore, there is one or more domestic cup competitions and also continental competitions.

For example, England has:

The same is the case in most of Europe’s leagues, except that some leagues have only one domestic cup competition per season

Meanwhile, in international football, there is a general competition that brings the world together, the FIFA World Cup. There are also other cup competitions, but they differ from one continent to the next.

For example, Europe has the UEFA European Championship and UEFA Nations League, Africa has the Africa Cup of Nations, and South America has the Copa America.

Frequency of competitions

In club football, competitions are held every season without fail. The same competitions run through a scheduled period every year, allowing the players to have a fixed schedule for their club teams’ engagements. Most times, these competitions overlap and teams play in different competitions within a short period.

For example, Chelsea played in up to five various competitions in the space of a month in the 2021/22 season when they played in the league, both domestic cups, Champions League, and FIFA Club World Cup between January and February 2022.

However, in international football, competitions take place every two or four years. The Africa Cup of Nations, for example, takes place every two years, while competitions like the FIFA World Cup and Euros take place every four years.

Number of matches

At club football level, teams play a fixed number of matches in their leagues. Also, they play some more in cup competitions depending on how far they are able to get in the competitions. In countries like England, Spain, France, and Italy, each team plays 38 league matches per season. 

Furthermore, cup football can throw up several unforeseen scenarios due to the number of rounds involved. As a result, some clubs end up playing well over 60 matches in a single season, as Liverpool and Chelsea did in the 2021/22 season.

Meanwhile, countries do not usually have a set number of fixtures every year for international football.

As a result, the number of matches they engage in differs from one year to the next. Also, some countries play more games whenever there are major competitions.

Time Period

Club football is usually on for the majority of the calendar year. Players resume pre-season camping/training with their clubs from July and train together until the season starts in August (in most parts of Europe). The season goes on from August until May of the next year, with a number of breaks in between.

As a result of this arrangement, club-level teammates get to spend most of their time together.

However, international football usually takes place during the off-season for club football, usually between June and July. This is mostly when competitions occur, although the Africa Cup of Nations usually takes place in January when clubs are on winter break.

Presence of friendlies

In club football, friendlies are not really common except at the interval between two seasons. During this time, clubs engage in pre-season friendlies to ascertain if certain players fit into their style and to prepare their players for the upcoming season.

On rare occasions, clubs play some friendlies during the breaks allotted to them mid-season. There could also be unofficial friendlies behind closed doors during the season.

However, for international football, friendlies are a significant feature. The friendlies usually take place in allocated windows throughout the year. Countries engage in international friendlies in the months of June, September, October, November, and March.

However, some European and American nations have UEFA/CONCACAF Nations League matches instead of random friendlies.

You can find out more about international friendlies here.

Squad size

For club competitions, a fixed number of players are registered, but clubs are permitted to use some unregistered players, such as their youth team players and academy youngsters. Certain competitions allow a fixed number of senior players to be registered per registration window.

Usually, these windows appear twice per season, first at the beginning of the season, and the second one in the middle of the season.

In contrast, for every international break, including competitions, a number of players are called up to represent their countries. The number of invited players can be anywhere between 23 and 28 players.

Game time given to youth players

Clubs allow for their young players to develop by giving them a reasonable amount of game time. This happens especially in cup competitions, because of fixture congestion. Most clubs have to play many matches each season, so their managers turn towards youngsters for some of their games. For example, in 2019/20, Liverpool had their entire youth team play a Carabao Cup match while the first team played a FIFA Club World Cup match only 24 hours after. 

This is different from what happens in international football. International managers hardly give minutes to players who are not club-level stars.

As a result, youth players do not really get a chance in some of their national teams.

The only exceptions to this norm recently have been Arsenal teenager Marcelo Flores who got into the Mexican National team. Also, Manchester United starlet Hannibal Mejbri secured a place in the Tunisian National team. 

Managers

In club teams, managers are always full-time managers whose full attention is usually on their team’s performance every week. Club managers work with their players for extended periods and tend to have a significant influence on the players.

Meanwhile, due to the nature of international football, managers are permitted to have other jobs, provided they continue to deliver at the best level for the national teams. In 2009, Guus Hiddink was the manager of the Russian national team and interim manager of Chelsea, a side he won the FA Cup with that season.

Transfers

With clubs, it is possible to build the best teams by looking into the transfer market and signing players to improve their team in various positions. Furthermore, due to the amount of revenue clubs generate, they can spend money to sign new players.

You can find out how football transfer fees are becoming expensive here.

However, unlike in club football, transfers are not permitted among national teams. Only players who have links to a country can play for such a country.

Strength of teams

Due to the possibility of transfers in club football, teams can strengthen their squads as much as they like. Therefore, they can assemble the world’s best players as long as they can afford their services. 

Clubs like Paris Saint-Germain have gathered the best players over the years, signing Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, and Mauro Icardi.

In addition, Manchester City have excelled in signing some of the expensive players, including Jack Grealish, Ruben Dias, and Erling Haaland.

In contrast, in international football transfers are not allowed. As a result, some teams are more robust than others internationally. Countries like France, Brazil, Spain, England, Germany, Argentina, and the likes have most of the world’s most prominent and best players.

Concentration of teams

At club level, the best teams are usually from Europe. This is due to their increased spending levels and their ability to attract the best players from all over the world. 

Teams in Europe are usually culpable of signing players for hefty fees. However, the spending levels of teams in South America, which also have a considerable excellent club football structure, is far lower.

As of April 2022, Danilo, playing in the midfield for Palmeiras was the most expensive player playing in a South American club, with a value of €22 million.

Meanwhile, countries from Europe and South America have dominated international football. This is because the best national teams are from these regions, and the most successful teams in international football are from these continents.

Pressure

For clubs, players are usually under pressure to perform due to the enormous amounts of money spent on them in wages and bonuses. For instance, Bruno Fernandes had to open up about his £47 million price tag being too high when he signed for Manchester United.

However, for international football, the pressure that comes with playing on the international stage is usually more significant than that of playing at club level.

This is because when players represent their countries, they carry the hopes of their entire nation with them, unlike when they play for their clubs.

Senegalese forward Sadio Mane described winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2022 as the most important win of his career.

This came despite having won virtually every major trophy as a Liverpool player.

Why is club football more popular than international football?

Club football is more popular than international football because it takes place with far greater regularity. Also, club-level rivalries and derbies are formed, making the matches therein very interesting.

Furthermore, there are constant updates from club competitions all year round, keeping information about club football at the fingertips of fans. International football, on the other hand, only receives widespread attention when it’s time for major tournaments. 

For these brief periods, however, the international competitions could attract great interest.  According to FIFA, the Russia 2018 World Cup final was watched by an average of 517 million viewers. At some points in the game as France took on Croatia, over 1.1 billion viewers tuned in.

However, the Champions League final usually averages 400 million views, although the 2021 UEFA Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City ended up with over 700 million viewers.

Are club soccer teams better than national teams?

When comparing the quality of club and national teams, there is usually a clear gulf in quality, which is mainly brought about by the quality of players available to each side. For example, even with their best players available, most national teams do not have the variety of quality players that clubs can boast of.

Many countries have only one or two top stars, with the rest of their squad comprising largely average-quality players. 

South Korea, for example, has Heung-Min Son, Egypt has Mohamed Salah, and Bosnia & Herzegovina has Edin Dzeko. These countries have weak teams with one or two star players. 

Conclusion

Club football differs from international football based on several reasons. While many players love to respect their countries, many know the importance of club football.

None of them is better than the other, and there are players who will still feel an immense sense of pride when they win a trophy with their club or country!

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