FIFA rankings fail football

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Football News

FIFA produced their monthly rankings earlier today, with England dropping to seventh as Portugal moved up two positions.

This ‘story’ has earned headlines on most - if not all - of the well respected football websites in the UK, with the BBC, Sky Sports and several national newspapers all covering the drop.

Additionally, Wales have reached a 17-year high in 41st position, whilst Scotland and Republic of Ireland also moved forward one place. Outside of the British Isles, Libya moved into the top 50.

But the key question is, does anyone care? And, more importantly, what’s the point?

The ranking system was first introduced by FIFA back in 1993, with seven different teams holding the No.1 spot at some stage or another over the past two decades.

It is described by the organisation itself as ‘an important indicator for FIFA's member associations to find out where their respective teams stand in world football's pecking order’.

However, criticism of the way teams moved up and down led to a change in points system back in 2005. FIFA claimed they had ‘simplified’ the process, and a year later also made a change so that it considered the previous four years of achievement rather than eight.

The system would appear to be anything but simple though, with the current baffling process throwing up some quite unbelievable outcomes in recent times.

USA were the fourth best team on the planet in 2006, whilst Israel peaked at 15th in 2008. They have only qualified for a major tournament once, and that was the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Whilst the logic behind producing a table for every ‘representative’ within FIFA is there, major questions have to be asked over the purpose of producing results on a monthly basis. International matches don’t take place every month.

Additionally, friendly matches have little significance to anything, aside from preparation for bigger matches around the corner. Why would a country score points for winning a match in which they made seven substitutions?

True, FIFA rank types of matches in terms of importance, with the World Cup at the very top. Others filter down in order of importance from that, with tournaments like the European Championships next, followed by major tournament qualifiers.

But, to get anything for a friendly match is quite simply pointless, and exposes a major flaw in the system.

It’s important to get this right, because the FIFA rankings are used to split teams into their specific pots in qualifying competitions. In affect, a team can be rewarded for winning pointless matches, even though they fail on the big stage on a consistent basis. That is unfair.

Other factors that are taken into account include the strength of continent and the period of time the game took place. The longer ago the match was, the less important it is now – one of the few logical steps.

But why four years? Everyone knows football is a short-term, results business. You can build for the future, but competitive events come in two-year cycles, so why not judge over that period of time. Your only as good as your last tournament, not your last two.

What I’m suggesting is that the FIFA rankings are published every three months, and only take into account competitive matches in qualifying and at major tournaments.

That way, the top teams will be rewarded for performing well. England, quite obviously, would be well below their current seventh position.

Consistently average, it seems teams are currently rewarded for being really good in qualifying but never doing anything when it really matters.

And, if FIFA want people to take these rankings seriously, then a change should be made sooner rather than later as its credibility continues to slide.

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