Michel Platiniai??i??s expansion of the UEFA European Football Championship has raised criticisms from those who enjoyed the previous version of the tournament. Expanding the number of teams from 16 to 24 does cause the average quality of tournament’s sides to decrease. It does increase the number of matches, both in the qualifying process and in the actual tournament, which could reduce the average amount of attention paid to these matches. Managers, like Roy Hodgson, have claimed that Platiniai??i??s ai???week of footballai??? will lead to international managers having less time to work with their sides. Ultimately, there exist costs when it comes to Platiniai??i??s plan. That makes it no different to any other plan, including maintenance of the status quo. Costs exist, regardless of the action. At the same time, one should not solely focus on the costs of this plan; there are benefits (to be clear this piece is not a defense of Platiniai??i??s changes). One particular benefit, that certainly helps a nation like England, is the decreased risk of not qualifying for the tournament. That decreased risk could incentivize a particular set of European nations to focus on long-term team-building, rather than focusing on the short-term pressures of qualification.

Kyle Walker vs Glen Johnson ai??i?? Whoai??i??s The Better Right-back For Englandai??i??s World Cup Campaign?

It was difficult to expect Roy Hodgson to develop a new iteration of the England national team with the risk and costs of failing to qualify for World Cup 2014

Let us look at the example of Englandai??i??s qualification for World Cup 2014. England have a slim chance of winning the 2014 World Cup, let alone reaching the semi-finals. If one simulated the World Cup one thousand times, the modal outcome probably sees the Three Lions knocked out in the Round of 16. So, if England cannot make any noise at the tournament, they might as well start building for the future. However, England faced the substantial risk of not qualifying for World Cup 2014, and not making the World Cup means lost revenue, a blow to the pride of English Football, media scrutiny, sacking the manager, etc. Therefore, unless the English FA and Roy Hodgson had a risk-seeking tendency, there exist strong incentives to field an older, experienced squad, even though that squad has little long-term value and selecting such a squad means allocating fewer resources toward developing the next iteration of the England squad, one that may compete for something. Hodgson also had more incentive to play whatever style got England the points they needed rather than developing a philosophy of play.

This sizeable risk of failure also existed for some of the best sides in Europe, under the previous system of qualification for the European Championship. Historically, one of the top 6 or 7 sides ends up having to play a playoff, where one high-leverage match could lead to their elimination. In qualifying for Euro 96, the Netherlands had to win a playoff against the Republic of Ireland. Ai??England qualified for Euro 2000 by winning a playoff. Portugal avoided a playoff by finishing as the best runner up (results versus the 1st, 3rd, and 4th place teams in the group), beating out Turkey by one goal in goal difference. Both Netherlands and Spain had to participate in a playoff to make it to Euro 2004. England failed to qualify for Euro 2008. Portugal had to win a playoff match, albeit against Bosnia and Herzegovina, to qualify for Euro 2012. The risk of these traditional powers missing the European Championship approaches zero with Platiniai??i??s expansion of the tournament. With 22 or 23 places (depending on the number of hosts) available for 53 teams and with many teams (Andorra, Gibraltar, etc.) serving little more than punching bags, it would take some doing to see a repeat of Englandai??i??s failure in 2008. Since the top two of each group qualify for the tournament, the probability that a traditional power winds up in a playoff plummets as well.

When it comes to the actual tournament, the addition of two groups, making it six groups of four, decreases the chances of a group of death. Combine that with the admittance of the four best third-place teams in the knockout rounds, meaning two-thirds of teams advance beyond the group stage, and it seems unlikely that traditional footballing powers will fail to reach the knockout stage like Italy in 1996 and 2004, England in 2000, Spain in 2004, Germany in 2004, France in 2008, and the Netherlands in 2012. Therefore, Platini has helped make it a near foregone conclusion that the top 7 European sides will make it from the beginning of qualifying to the first knockout round of the tournament.

Michel Platini has diluted the European Championship, but may have also set some of Europe's best sides on the path of long-term planning and actual team-building.

Michel Platini has diluted the European Championship, but may have also set some of Europe’s best sides on the path of long-term planning and actual team-building.

The dilution of the tournament also helps international managers increase the time and the opportunities they have to train their squad, a valuable asset in international football. Given the lack of time international managers have with their squads, it can prove difficult to introduce a playing philosophy and/or develop a side of younger players. Instead, managers place more of an emphasis on identifying and preparing players for the next important match. The lack of time and opportunities also inhibits players from gaining familiarity with one another and developing a familiarity for a playing philosophy. This gives some international sides, who have players that happen to play at the same club and have chemistry, an enormous advantage over others, who have their players scattered on multiple teams (possibly in multiple countries). Also, international sides, with a large chunk of players at a particular club, can adopt elements of the philosophy of that club, helping to maximize the effectiveness of the unit. Beyond those two tactics to create a working side, international sides have severe limits in developing a cohesive side with a clear identity, unless they look to select a relatively young squad and allow them to grow together, while instilling a philosophy of play, while having to accept the significant risk of failing to qualify or getting beyond the group stage of major tournaments. Not everyone has a stable of elite young talent like Germany when they created this iteration of Die Mannschaft, allowing them to avoid significant risk exposure in the process of team building.

Due to the decreased risk of failing to qualify and the decreased risk of failing to make the knockout rounds, it is less costly to select a squad of young players to mold into a competitive side at the Euros. There is also less of a cost in trying to develop an identity. Ai??For example, given the weaker opposition they will face in the qualification process and in the group stage of Euro 2016, England can select a squad of young players, with a philosophy of play in mind. A nation like England can use the qualification process, and the actual tournament, as a developmental program, creating a team with an identity, cohesion, and long-term ceiling with an eye on the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020. It also allows a young side to gain experience playing international football in a major competition (though the value of this is more nebulous). So while a nation like England may fail to maximize their final outcome at the Euros, foregoing a quarterfinal exit (probably Englandai??i??s ceiling at Euro 2016) allows them to increase their chances of contending for honors at future tournaments.

Michel Platiniai??i??s expansion of the European Championship has its costs, but it may also help to change the fate of some of the most important European sides. With the decreased risk of failure, these traditional powers can place a greater focus on long-term planning, with respect to team composition and identity. This could lead to teams maximizing the effectiveness of the eleven-man unit, something a quite a few nations (cough*England*cough) have struggled to do. This could lead to greater heterogeneity in the playing styles of the best European nations. Long-term, Platiniai??i??s changes could help the top 7 (or so) of Europe to further separate themselves from the rest of Europe (or at least decrease the probability that one of those nations waste a ai???golden generationai???), make the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and final of the European Championship more compelling, and raise the overall level of quality of the best sides in Europe.

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