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12 September 2018

Leader: How Uefa’s complex new Nations League baffles fans and players alike

More than a game, Harry. 

By New Statesman

After a radiant summer, Gareth Southgate’s young England side have returned to reality. If a 2-1 defeat to Spain at Wembley did not sap their spirit, the Byzantine complexity of Uefa’s Nations League might. The format of the new competition has baffled Mr Southgate’s players and bewildered fans. “It is quite confusing,” conceded Harry Maguire, England’s ball-carrying centre-half. “The boss tried to explain it to us the best he could the other day. I think he has got his head around it now, but it took a lot of studying.”

This is not an example of the self-deprecation that so endeared the England team to many of us during the World Cup. The format of the Nations League is algorithmic and, in truth, nearly impossible to understand. There could be no more damning testimony for the prosecution than the fact that even Mr Maguire, who plays with poise and certainty, and Mr Southgate, conscientious and cerebral, are none the wiser. But perhaps we should stop trying to understand Uefa’s new competition and simply enjoy the football instead. Mr Maguire, one of the stars of the World Cup campaign in Russia, put it well: “Just try to win every game.”

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This article appears in the 12 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The return of fascism