Tuesday 19 September 2017

'International football has become boring' - John Aldridge with a radical proposal to shake-up qualifying campaigns

Shane Long magical winner against Germany in October 2015 was a rare international moment to savour
Shane Long magical winner against Germany in October 2015 was a rare international moment to savour
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

The depressing sporting spectacle that has played out over the last few days has served to highlight why international football appears to be in a state of permanent decline.

While we all tried to get excited about the prospect of Gareth Bale and Wales arriving at the Aviva Stadium for a vital World Cup qualifier last Friday, our enthusiasm was shattered the moment Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli blew his whistle for the first time and the ‘action’ got underway.

Pre-match optimism was quickly replaced by the familiar reality that international football has become the most morbid version of the game, with Ireland’s single shot on target just one less than Wales managed over a 90 minutes that lacked any semblance of quality.

Seamus Coleman’s horrible leg break and Gareth Bale’s nasty tackle on John O’Shea were unfortunate talking post match talking points, but only because the football on show was truly dreadful.

In truth, it was another night that cemented the suspicion that international football has lost the magic it once generated.

Maybe we look back on history through a green, white and gold tinted memories, but there was a time when we all looked forward to the big qualifiers and tended to be rewarded with a match that delivered memories worthy of the hype.

Back in the days when Ireland were cracking through the glass ceiling on the international stage and making their mark on the grand stage in the late 1980s, this nation was captivated by a team of heroes who remain cherished icons to this day.

Yet one of the men who helped to fire Ireland’s ambitions in the formative years of Jack Charlton’s reign as national team boss fears that old gloss has been wiped away and replaced with something far less edifying.

“I get the impression that most football fans would rather settle down to watch an afternoon of Premier League football than an international match,” suggest John Aldridge, who led the Ireland line with distinction for a decade from 1986.

“While international football will always be part of the football calendar, I wonder whether some players, and I’m not saying the Irish lads here by the way, now look at it as an inconvenience rather than the pinnacle of their career.

“From the first time I pulled on an Ireland shirt in 1986 to my final appearance a decade later, the novelty never wore off and yet I look at some England players and wonder whether they have the same emotions.

“International football has become boring for me and while the major tournaments still throw up the odd good game, it tends to be very tactical matches with sides afraid to make mistakes.

“I think something has to change in international football because a lot of fans now see it as an inconvenience interrupting the club season.”

Many will echo Aldridge’s sentiments, with this latest international break doing little to banish the view that scheduling World Cup qualifiers at the back end of a hectic season of club football is misguided.

Can anyone offer an argument to explain why we needed to witness world champions Germany beating Azerbaijan 4-1 on Sunday? Did the 77,690 who paid to watch England beat Lithuania at Wembley on the same day have an experience that will live with them forever more as they watched a dour 2-0 win for the home side?

Attendances for Ireland friendly games at the Aviva Stadium have been disappointing in recent years
Attendances for Ireland friendly games at the Aviva Stadium have been disappointing in recent years

That is before we consider the delights of a scoreless draw between Andorra and the Faroe Islands or the epic 0-0 draw between Cyrpus and Estonia in a bumper afternoon of football fun last Saturday. The only good to come out of those two matches is that barely anyone on this planet bothered to watch them.

Essentially, the outdated qualifying format of expanded groups and games against nations you struggle to spell without the help of Google is in need of a revamp, with Aldridge offering up this proposal for consideration.

“There is a gap in the football schedule every other summer, so why not look at playing a qualifying competition in the month of June,” says Aldo.

“Get the smaller nations to qualifying for the main qualifying event and that would free up weeks in the Premier League calendar.

Robbie Brady's winner against Italy at Euro 2016 was a reminder that international can still throw up glorious moments, but they are few and far between
Robbie Brady's winner against Italy at Euro 2016 was a reminder that international can still throw up glorious moments, but they are few and far between

“There would still be space for a couple of high-profile international friendlies over the course of the season and the club managers would certainly welcome it.”

Aldridge’s revamped international model would reduce the size of qualifying groups, with the extra weeks created in the club season opening the door to a later kick-off in the Premier League, opening the prospect of a mid-September start.

It could also be a solution to the sterility we are currently confronted with every time the international breaks roll around, with the same debate likely to be aired when the Premier League festivities are halted once again when Ireland are due to travel to Georgia, Luxembourg will take on Belarus and Azerbaijan will play San Mario in early September. Now that is something to look forward to!

We’ll leave the final word on this international football debate to former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, who summed up the emotions of many lovers of the game with this typically colourful rant on BT Sport:

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport