By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 14, 2012) US Soccer Players – If you're a European club, there's a quick and abrupt answer. There is none. Surprisingly, FIFA actually listened and we only have one more year to enjoy watching the August date disrupt the early goings of the European seasons. Will any tears fall for a friendly date that seems designed to remind everyone that FIFA sets the schedule?
For American soccer fans, the August date is most associated with the prestige friendly. Mexico this year and last, Brazil in 2010, and.... Well, that's the extent of the August date. Prior to that, August was a time for games that counted in CONCACAF. Or, more to the point for Confederations like UEFA, no games at all. Under the new deal UEFA's clubs pressed FIFA into accepting, doubleheader international fixture dates become the norm.
So what have we lost? Again, some of the biggest stakeholders in world soccer have that same quick answer. Yet, the goals of club teams aren't supposed to match with the international game. The priorities are supposed to be different. Both are in no small part about time management.
The clubs want to limit access for the sake of their schedule, their investment, and their chances. The National Teams need access and FIFA needs to support the framework that creates the multi-year World Cup cycles. Both understand the lucrative nature of a successful friendly, yet the two groups are at odds over priority. Clubs spending weeks in foreign countries expanding their brand is good business. FIFA carving out significant time for National Teams to be together doesn't have the same priority for the clubs. And so on, until we end up with the kind of relationship that creates the much maligned August date.
As a recent innovation, the August friendly sent a specific message across world soccer. The international game would be on a regular schedule, one that wouldn't be beholden to not just Confederation championship schedules, but even the Confederations and World Cup finals. Games would be played, even in World Cup summers. In fact, it's worth considering what FIFA's August date meant for their own calendar. At least in theory, it was a chance to reset international soccer following a World Cup.
The norm in most of the major soccer countries is that National Team coaching contracts expire after the World Cup. Teams start over, normally with a break between the next game that counts. FIFA inserted a calendar date that would require the countries choosing to fill it to regroup quicker than they otherwise would. International soccer gets going again sooner than later, the cycle resets.
What happens now might not be that different on the surface. The two-game September window remains in place, but except in World Cup years those are normally games that count. What the European club lobby has forced is a condensed international schedule, focused on a limited number of dates that overlooks the same things that caused the club complaints. Disruption, the ability to keep their players together for training, and the simple inconvenience of having to adapt to a schedule they don't directly control.
You can argue the August date in theory, along with the February/March or June date for that matter, but pushing the international friendly schedule away from official match days is troubling. It's a return to the oddly scheduled friendly, the January scenario for the United States National Team program where the options are limited and the quality of the opponent taking the field can be very different from that team's reputation. It creates the old problem for international soccer, non-representative elevens.
Coaches can talk at length about the importance of training together, of time spent with a group of players. That's all fine, but there is limited value in a group that can't provide at least the framework of a first choice side. The limitation on call-ups turns into a scenario that isn't likely to happen in a game that counts. Different teammates, different ideas, and different abilities on both sides of the ball makes it very difficult to judge any player's suitability. Though it's still an opportunity, it's one that carries with it significant caveats.
Would those same European clubs put up with something like this if the situation were reversed? It's the same answer to our earlier question. That's the importance of the one-off friendlies. It's a hedge against the game moving too far towards club soccer.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
More from J Hutcherson: