UEFA members have voted to approve the new “Nations League” tournament, which will replace most international friendlies from September 2018.
The 54 member countries of European football’s governing body unanimously adopted a four-point resolution to create the competition, which is to feed into qualifying playoffs for the 2020 European Championship, and could later be incorporated into qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
UEFA president Michel Platini told the congress in Kazakhstan that it is “a very important decision for the future of football at the level of national teams.”
UEFA said the main motivation for the change was “sporting integrity” and a desire to improve the quality of international football, amid a general feeling that the current standard of international friendlies is insufficient.
The precise format of the new competition is yet to be finalised, but UEFA outlined its intentions on its official website: “The concept is for the 54 national teams to be divided into four large divisions according to coefficient rankings.
“Prior to UEFA Euro 2020, each division will be sub-divided into four pools of three or four teams, so each team plays four to six matches between September and November 2018. The final-four competition, involving the four pool group-winners of group A, will start in 2019, whereas playoffs for the UEFA Euro will then take place in March 2020.
“National teams will thus either be competing to become UEFA Nations League champions, or be fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation in their groups, as well as to qualify for Euro playoffs.”
The governing body stressed that qualification for the European Championship “remains largely the same” but said qualifiers would begin in March, rather than September, following major tournaments and that “four teams qualify for each final tournament via the UEFA Nations League.”
Wolfgang Niersbach, chairman of the National Teams Competition Committee, added: "We accept and respect that all UEFA member associations have agreed to create a new competition. This is a big step for national teams in Europe and we hope that fans will support the new format."
Alex Horne, the Football Association’s general secretary, told Sky Sports News on Thursday morning that it was a “positive” development and he was “excited for both England and the FA.” He added that clubs should welcome the news as “a better quality of games makes for a better quality of players.”
However, FIFPro -- the world players' union -- has released a statement saying that while it “respects the aim to improve the quality of international football,” it is worried about “the added strain it will place on the world's elite players.”
FIFPro director of player services Tijs Tummers said in the statement: "It should be clear that there is a difference in a friendly match and a competitive match. As we understand, the ‘Nations League’ will be another prestigious competition. As a consequence, that implies an increase in the workload for the group of top players."
Tummers feels that there is no real issue with the current format of international friendles, while the introduction of the ‘Nations League’ does little to solve the problems with the qualifying stages for a major tournament.
He said: "Mostly, the countries organise a friendly against an opponent of equal quality. What should be thought over is the amount of qualifying matches between teams that have an enormous gap in talent level. Very often you see a match between nations that are more than 100 places separated from each other on the FIFA rankings. Even with the new ‘Nations League,’ those matches will remain on the international match calendar."
Information from the Press Association and Associated Press was used in this report.