Europe's national coaches have told a UEFA conference that they want longer preparation time.
Allowing sufficient time between the end of European domestic competitions and major international tournaments, as well as ensuring consistently high-quality refereeing - these were just two of the concerns expressed by Europe's national team coaches at a major UEFA conference in Poland.
International coaches, their assistants, national technical directors and coach education directors from 52 European associations completed three days of discussions at the fifth UEFA Conference for National Team Coaches in Warsaw today by hearing a pledge from UEFA that national team football would continue to occupy a vital role in the modern-day game in Europe.
"National team football matters," said UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh. "It is pure spirit. We're dealing with the passion of the national jersey, and an identity." UEFA will now study the recommendations and proposals put forward during the talks in the Polish capital.
"We have to protect national teams," Roxburgh added. "Some people think that we don't need them. This is not true. We now have to keep searching for the correct balance between the demands of club and national teams."
During their discussions, which focused on the recent FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan and forthcoming EURO 2004™ finals in Portugal, the coaches called for a greater period of time to be allowed between the completion of domestic seasons and the start of major final tournaments. They felt that a five-week gap would be an optimum solution, with three or four weeks a minimum, to enable players to recover and to reduce the cases of fatigue that were evident at the World Cup.
Turning to refereeing, a source of considerable controversy at the World Cup, the coaches urged the football authorities to give priority to quality over political concerns, and to pick the best match officials for major competitions. Italian referee Pierluigi Collina, who took charge of the World Cup final, joined the discussions in Warsaw and called on the coaches to remember that "just as players and coaches make mistakes, we must accept that referees can make mistakes as well".
No age limit
The idea was suggested by some coaches that there should be no age limit for top-level referees, and that physical fitness and football knowledge should be the main criteria for determining the length of a referee's career.
Clear rules needed
Addressing the ongoing tug of war between clubs and associations regarding the release of players for internationals, the coaches felt that there had to be clear rules and schedules for both clubs and national teams, to enable them to exist in a spirit of co-operation. They expressed the view that they would like to have players for three days before friendly matches, and for five days before official games.
On the topic of friendly matches, it was agreed that the current calendar for international friendlies should be maintained. With regard to the UEFA European Championship, the coaches also called for a rethink of the rule whereby they have to name squads of 35 players 30 days before the final round. They also proposed an increase in the size of their squads for qualifying matches and final tournaments.
Roxburgh praised the work of international coaches, who preside over a country's football hopes and destiny. "What a job, and what pressure," the former Scotland coach told them. "But you are stimulated by your work and you cope with that pressure because you have an intense desire to be successful."