The UEFA Nations League is a new competition format made for international football. Participated by UEFA nations, the UEFA Nations League brings the concept of domestic league football of promotion and relegation.
The tournament was first held in September 2018 with plans of having the finals played once every 2 years.
A league format held in arguably the best footballing continent on earth? Surely sounds like a great idea! There have been 2 seasons of the UEFA Nations League and the competition received mixed feedback from all parties including players, coaches, and football fans.
Amongst the other feedback and questions, one question is still asked by football critics around the world: is UEFA Nations League a major trophy?
A deep dive into the UEFA Nations League is required to answer the question, here is what you need to know about the significance of this trophy:
Can the UEFA Nations League be considered a major trophy?
When talking about major trophies in football, most fans would think about the FIFA World Cup, Copa Libertadores, and UEFA Euros for international football, and the Premier League, FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League for club football.
Those competitions are not the same, but there are several elements that they have in common. Whether it is international or league football, most major trophies in football will have at least 3 of the following:
- Historical value
- High stake to play for
- A large viewership
- Licensed under FIFA
The problem with UEFA Nations League is that it is way too young to be judged based on the criteria above. A short explanation of the UEFA Nations League history and how it works will help you gain a better perspective on the newly organised competition.
Talks about the UEFA Nations League started in 2013 when the president of the Norwegian Football Association Yngve Hallen confirmed that there was a plan to create a third national team tournament for European countries on top of the quadrennial FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO.
One of the priorities of the Nations League is to avoid interference between domestic football and other international competitions. Hence, it was decided that the Nations League is going to be held on the FIFA International Match Calendar as a replacement for friendlies.
The first UEFA Nations League was hosted by Portugal in 2018-19, which saw the Portuguese as the first Nations League champion after beating the Netherlands in a tight 1-0 victory.
How it works
The UEFA Nations League consists of 4 tiers including league A, B, C, and D. Adopting the concept of domestic league football, teams finishing top in their group from league B-D will be promoted to the higher league, while teams finishing bottom of each group will be relegated, just like how England will be relegated to league B for the 2024-25 season after finishing bottom in group A3.
The champion will be determined in a 4-team knockout stage participated by the 4 winners of each group in League A.
Why is the UEFA Nations League considered a major trophy?
Here are some reasons why the UEFA Nations League can be considered as a major trophy:
#1 Evenly matched national teams
Europe has some of the best footballing nations on earth, but it is a large continent comprised of lower-ranked teams such as Georgia (78), Belarus (96), and San Marino (211) who simply do not have the quality to compete with elite teams such as Belgium (2), France (4), Spain (6), and more.
With League A, B, C, and D, teams will be placed accordingly according to their recent ranks and performance. As a result, teams are evenly matched and it will be hard for a team to receive “lucky draws” on their progression through the biennial competition.
#2 Chance to qualify for the Euros
Excluding the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Euro Championship is arguably the most prestigious title that can be won by any European country.
Over the years, the UEFA Euro qualifiers have witnessed some of the most unexpected results including when the 2010 World Cup finalist the Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2016 UEFA Euro Championship.
In any case, the UEFA Nations League presents a chance for unqualified nations to fight for the remaining 4 out of 24 places in the UEFA Euro Championship, contested in a play-off between group winners of each league.
You can find out how the Euros and UEFA Nations League differ here.
#3 Determining the best team in Europe
The UEFA Nations League is still a young competition, and it is not on the level of the UEFA Euro Championship and the FIFA World Cup. However, it does not take away the fact that it is participated by almost every football national team in Europe.
There are a total of 54 countries competing in the 4 leagues within the UEFA Nations League. Regardless of how prestigious the trophy is, winning the whole competition will grant a country the bragging rights as one of the top European national teams.
Why isn’t the UEFA Nations League considered a major trophy?
Here are some reasons why the UEFA Nations League will not be considered as a major trophy:
#1 Replacement for friendly matches
Most football fans are familiar with how international friendly matches go, especially in Europe. It is a decent watch during the international break, but teams are not evenly matched which results in soulless matches with teams making 11 substitutions during halftime.
It was UEFA’s intention to make FIFA matchday more interesting by introducing the UEFA Nations League. Unfortunately, it does not take away the fact that it is just a replacement for international friendlies, which does not help to raise the prestige of the UEFA Nations League.
#2 Timing and scheduling
“For me, the Nations League is unimportant,” mentioned Kevin De Bruyne in a press conference before one of Belgium’s matches in the UEFA Nations League.
Later, he elaborated that he had every intention to win the competition with Belgium, but the timing and schedule of the competition is simply too gruelling for the players.
Scheduled within the FIFA matchday means that players will have to play in between matches with their respective clubs. For a player like Kevin De Bruyne who competed in the Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, and the UEFA Champions League, it takes away the motivation to go through with the tournament.
Jurgen Klopp also added that it is a ridiculous idea to have players play for the UEFA Nations League on top of the club matches and other international matches.
#3 Minimum stake and historical value
International football presents much less financial benefit for players compared to club football. After all, what matters for most players is to play for the badge and win trophies for their countries.
Unfortunately, the UEFA Nations League is just not up there with prestigious trophies such as the FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro Championship. While it is true that countries can qualify for the UEFA Euro Championship by topping their UEFA Nations League group, they still have to pass through a series of tough play-offs.
The competition is not even a decade old, and it does require a lot of time for a competition to hold historical value, such as the ones possessed by the FIFA World Cup and even the English FA Cup. Until then, the fact has it that the UEFA Nations League still has a long way to go to establish itself as a prestigious international trophy.
How prestigious is the UEFA Nations League?
Just how prestigious is the UEFA Nations League? After examining both perspectives on why the UEFA Nations League can be considered a major trophy and why not, it is safe to conclude that the UEFA Nations League is not up there with the most prestigious international football competition.
However, the facts showed that the UEFA Nations League is properly organised by UEFA under FIFA. It is participated by more than 50 European countries and not only the trophy itself, winners of each group have something to fight for in a play-off for a spot in the UEFA Euro Championship.
You can find out the differences between FIFA and UEFA here.
Each player, country, and even football fan will have their own opinion regarding the prestige of the competition, but the UEFA Nations League is an upgrade from friendlies on FIFA match day, and it does increase the level of competition in European football.
It will require hundreds or even thousands of matches for the UEFA Nations League to be established as one of the most prestigious trophies in football. However, it does not take away the fact that the UEFA Nations League has all it takes to be considered one of the major trophies achievable for European nations.
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