International friendly week has become something of a hassle recently. It’s a hassle to clubs, who don’t want their players getting injured on someone else’s time, it’s a hassle to players, who have to spend lots of time travelling and it’s a hassle to fans who have to pay to see these players look uninterested.
So, how can we make them interesting and relevant again? OMB considers some viable and some not so viable options…
1. Stop Calling Them Friendlies
‘Friendly’ isn’t a good name. It has no edge. It almost provokes players and fans to not care about what is happening on the pitch. A better word would be ‘exhibition’. This automatically makes you feel as if you are going to watch something entertaining, after all, isn’t that what the fan wants?
Also, if you take all of the pressure of playing for their country away from the players, are the fans more likely to see them play better football? An ‘International Exhibition’ would be the perfect platform for them to show off their skills and just enjoy themselves. Why not allow them to take more long-range shots or try a few more step-overs? It’s a non-competitive match, who cares about the result?
You may argue that friendlies should be used for preparation for competitive matches, but who’s to say that nothing good can come from adopting this kind of attitude? Nobody remembers the results from an ‘International Friendly’, but they might remember the time they saw Joe Hart try and take on the whole of the Canada team in an ‘International Exhibition’.
2. Have an allocated Ghanaian Fans Section
We all saw them during the England game. Their enthusiasm and passion put British fans to shame. The usual tense atmosphere that flows through Wembley stadium during an international match made way for a party atmosphere and we all embraced it.
Their fans provided support in the truest sense of the word. They got behind their team and made them feel that they were behind them every step of the way. The players from both sides reacted and seemed to be uplifted by it.
Failing a Ghanaian section, I’d quite happily settle for a Brazilian section, or, we could just learn from their fans and stay behind our team for 90 minutes, no matter who is wearing the shirt.
3. Try Out New Rules
International Friendly matches are the perfect stage for new rules to be tried out. Why not? They are non-competitive and people will be able to judge their ability to work in real situations.
You want goal-line technology? Try it in a friendly. Leo Messi to have to wear ankle weights to make the game fairer? Try it in a friendly. Players getting sent off for foul and abusive behaviour towards referees? Try it in… now I’m just being ridiculous.
People would buy tickets just to see the new rules being tried out. They would create talking points regardless of which countries were involved.
4. Half Time Shows
The Super Bowl does it, why can’t football? There would be tons of acts ready to perform at an international football match. Republic of Ireland could have a duet between Mary Byrne from The X-Factor and Jedward, also from The X-Factor, Scotland could have Leon Jackson, Wales could have Charlotte Church and England could have Diva Fever. Imagine it.
5. Public Penalty Shoot Outs
If any match ends in a draw it should be settled by penalties. But not your normal penalties, oh no. Five fans from each team should be picked at random, maybe with a spotlight, to represent their nation.
Ticket sales would go through the roof and some average Joe could become an overnight hero. Penalties are a lottery anyway, so let us have a go.