Michael O’Neill is going to be the next Scotland manager. Or he might not be.…
Today Scotland will learn its fate in a new UEFA competition called the Nations League. In Lausanne, Switzerland at around 11am 55 countries will be drawn in to four tiers and 16 groups.
Over the course of 2018 they will compete within the groups and then winners of each will take part in a playoff to see who gets to go to Euro 2020. It’s rather complicated and instead of blowing our budget on a fancy video we’ve just embedded the UEFA one below.
If you’re still at odds with the whole thing take comfort in the knowledge that we’ve attempted to answer what should be the four, main questions for Scotland fans going forward. If you have any other queries leave them in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them.
🌍 UEFA #NationsLeague draw 💪
— UEFA Nations League (@UEFAEURO) January 18, 2018
In theory: yes. Although the official party line is that the Scottish FA will do everything they can to qualify for Euro 2020 through the traditional qualification groups, there’s no doubt that Scotland being placed in League C due to our poor coefficients may be a blessing in disguise.
If you made any sense of our explanation of how each team reach the play-offs, you will have noticed that no matter what happens a team from each League will be in contention for qualification for the final tournament. And since Scotland happen to be one of the stronger teams in their relatively poor league they stand a chance of being one of those countries.
— UEFA Nations League (@UEFAEURO) January 22, 2018
However, the plan is for Scotland’s place in future Nations League tiers to be entirely dependant on how they do in this system, rather than through FIFA coefficients. So, therefore, should Scotland do remarkably well in League C then they’ll almost certainly be pushed up to play more comparable opposition in the future.
The entire premise of the Nations League is set up to offer some incentive to smaller countries within UEFA’s fold, so it’s only natural that countries – quite like our own – that struggle to make major tournaments can fall back on this for one final shot at qualification.
While he might have left UEFA in disgrace, Michel Platini is hailed in European football circles for the way he packaged the game during his time as the organisation’s president. Thanks in no small part to the Frenchman, the Champions League has never been more lucrative, with the Europa League also rebranding and remoulded under his charge. Platini wanted to do the same to international football and thus the Nations League was born.
The romantic party line from UEFA is that the new competition will help restore international football to its former glory, but the establishment of the Nations League is a move largely motivated by money, particularly for a smaller association like the Scottish FA.
The £750,000 the Scotland will receive for participating in the new competition dwarfs the sort of money they could command for a friendly match. The winning team of each League will also receive a further £750,000, while the winners of the Finals will pocket £4.5 million. That’s some way below the €27m the winners of Euro 2016 received, but it’s certainly more lucrative for Scotland to play in the Nations League than play in a series of friendlies, as they have done previously.
Financially, the Nations League marks a fundamental change in the way international football is packaged and marketed. Previously, national associations were left to their own devices to sell broadcast and commercial rights for all games. That changed in the last Euro qualification cycle, with UEFA centralising broadcast rights. The Nations League will follow the same model.
Commercial rights will still be left to national associations, meaning Phoenix Honda or whoever will still be free to run adverts round the pitch during Nations League games. This is the one major departure from the commercial Champions League model, where sponsorship deals are also centralised. If the Nations League takes off, the Scottish FA could also rake in more of their own sponsorship money.
Of course, not everyone will make more cash from the Nations League. England, for instance, won’t be able to set up as many money-spinning friendlies against the likes of Brazil, Germany and France as they have in recent years. But for the Scottish FA, and other smaller national associations, the financial perks are clear.
There are a few things at play within European football that have pushed UEFA towards this new system. The first is the sheer strength of Europe’s biggest football clubs. Not only are they getting richer by the day, but through the ECA (European Clubs Association) they have some genuine muscle and influence when it comes to deciding the fate of the sport within our continent.
That plays out in the Champions League, where UEFA has been bending over backwards to appease the richest and biggest clubs in Europe with every-increasing incentives to make more money and reduce their burden of qualification. Amidst the constant threat of the biggest clubs in Spain, Germany, Italy, France and England breaking away and forming their own competition, UEFA is undoubtedly sweating over the sheer popularity and power that the domestic game now boasts.
The second is the fact that nobody really cares about international football anymore. Sure, we all love the World Cup and get excited at the slightest whiff of hope when it comes to Scotland, but very few football fans would say they support their club over their country and even less would bother turning on the television to watch a meaningless friendly on international week.
The Nations League is intended to inject some competition back in to the quieter periods of international football and with it, hopefully, a bit more attention from fans. If that happens then they may be able to sleep a little easier at night.
For starters, it means more games. So that means more money for the hardcore who wish to attend every Scotland fixture. Of course, ticket prices have been a hot topic among Scotland fans of late, with many complaining over the money they were being asked to pay for World Cup qualifiers. While nothing has been confirmed yet, Nations League games won’t be included in qualification season tickets, with the Scottish FA offering separate 2018 and 2019 packages, which will include all national team fixtures.
In terms of away games, the Nations League could throw up some interesting trips. Lithuania could be drawn against Scotland again – because what would an international group be without a trip to Vilnius for The Tartan Army? Cyprus or Montenegro might be quite pleasant in the autumn time, when the matches will be played. Due to winter venue restrictions, though, Scotland can only be paired with two of Norway, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania. Nobody wants to play all their games in subzero temperatures.
It’s not yet confirmed that Scotland will play all their home Nations League games at Hampden, but it’s highly likely, even if the decision is taken before then to leave behind the national stadium (there is a board meeting on January 30 to discuss the lease). Ticket prices will be set by the standard of opposition rather than the competition, in the same way qualifier ticket prices are. But given that the standard of opposition in League C won’t be especially high, it can be assumed prices won’t be astronomical.