Nations Cup can prove a hit with players and fans
England could reap benefits of participating by offering a chance to experiment in competitive clashes
The Carling Nations Cup kicked-off in Dublin this week with Ireland and Scotland’s three-goal victories providing an exciting start to the new competition.
The tournament is played in a league format with six matches between the four nations, with the first two having been played this week and the remaining four scheduled for May.
One of the organisers, Niall McMullan, is confident the new trophy will become much sought-after for both players and fans, and backed supporters to “turn out in force to really make this a football tournament to remember”.
However, the turnout at the Aviva Stadium on both nights this week was disappointing. Ticket sales have been slow and the attendances were less than half of the 51,700 capacity – perhaps a sign of the tough economic times in Ireland and the UK.
Others will claim the large number of high-profile withdrawals cheapened this week’s clashes.
The list of casualties included Robbie Keane and James McCarthy for the Irish; Welsh duo Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey; Craig Levein was without Scotland captain Darren Fletcher while Northern Ireland were missing five first-team regulars.
But the event has satisfied football’s traditionalists as it marks the revival of football’s oldest international tournament, the Home Internationals.
Despite the obvious monetary benefits, the Nations Cup provides each of the national sides’ managers with the opportunity to blood youngsters and test alternate formations and tactics in a competitive environment.
England turned down the chance to be included in this year’s tournament – a decision which may simply be motivated by money: a friendly against Brazil is likely to always generate more revenue than a competitive fixture against Northern Ireland.
But the chance for Fabio Capello to assess players on the boundary of national team in a high-octane match against bitter rivals Ireland, Scotland or Wales may prove more revealing than watching Darren Bent and Ashley Young help guide England to victory over Denmark.
International friendlies are commonplace in football and the ill-timed mid-week clashes between Italy and Germany or Argentina and Portugal may excite on paper, but in reality often disappoint.
The English FA is understood to discussed a possible 2013 return to compete in a new Home Nations tournament, but on a one off basis and not in a regular year-in-year-out competition.
Either way it would, at the very least, provide England with a competitive run-out ahead of the World Cup in Brazil.