Dividing players by nation is old and dumb: here’s 5 better ways

Steven Chicken

Declan Rice has blown the whole thing wide open: in the 21st century, the entire idea of nationhood is a joke.

What can it possibly mean when borders can be arbitrarily drawn and redrawn? There are countries that have appeared in major finals that no longer exist: the USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, West Germany.  The home nations are separate in football but not in athletics. And in this woke age, how can you be patriotic without also acknowledging the atrocities your country has also committed?

No. It’s about time we finally recognised the whole concept of ‘countries’ is nothing more than an administrative sub-division, and no basis for building an identity; and thus the very concept of international football crumbles into strange musty-smelling dust.

The whole thing has too many loopholes in it anyway. Technically I’m eligible to play for Germany because my mum was born there, which is stupid because she doesn’t speak a word of German and doesn’t believe in Aldi. “It’s just all too good to be true. There’s no way that stuff in the middle hasn’t fallen off the back of a van. It just smells of a pyramid scheme to me, and I don’t want the police coming to my door at 3am to repossess my creme fraiche, thank you very much.

But we need something else to go in international football’s place because…reasons. There must be better ways we can divide up the best players world football has to offer and pit them against each other?


5) Height
As an inveterate height enthusiast (my Google search history is full of ‘[celebrity name] height’, swiftly followed by the same search with the word ‘in feet’ appended), I can tell you that how tall you are is very important to some people. And to all of us, really, to some extent: like it or not, height affects how we view people. Might as well just lean into that.

Lofty longos vs shortbois would be brilliant. Who wouldn’t want to see a team entirely composed of nippy 5’6ers go up against a bunch of 6’3 behemoths? It’d be like year 7s vs year 10s, with the big lads all shoulder-barges and long balls while the wee fellas keep it on the floor and try to bamboozle their opponents with running and footwork, because as we all know once you get above 6’1 you lose all fine motor control and are forced to lumber around like Frankensteins.

The positional deficiencies created by this way of doing things would help provide balance, too. The shorter sidewould have N’Golo Kante, Lucas Torreira, Xherdan Shaqiri, Dries Mertens and Pedro, but good luck finding any decent centre-backs or a goalkeeper; while the tall side would include David De Gea, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku…wait, this is just Manchester United, isn’t it?

Where would each side play? It’d be determined by elevation: the tallest team would be based in the mountains of Peru, the shortest in the Netherlands.


4) Weight
We do weight classes in other sports: why not in football?

As with the Height World Cup, most of the fun here would be in matches between the two extremes: a side full of Adebayo Akinfenwa-sized beefsters going up against a bunch of David Silvas could make for hugely compelling viewing, even if in all likelihood the results pour yet more scorn on the huskier segments of the watching audience.

It would also be fun to see if it led footballers to aim for a certain weight in order to get into better teams – or go the other way in a display of borderline body shaming. “Sorry, Original Ronaldo, you’re playing with Steve McNulty now.”

Where would each side play? Each side’s home base would be decided by national average BMI statistics.


3) Age
Since Oedipus, we have been fascinated with the idea of the young upstart surpassing their older master. If it’s good enough for Greek tragedy, it’s good enough for football.

Yes, of course, we already split players into age groups for junior national sides, but I want to get rid of both the ‘junior’ and the ‘national’ elements. They should also get rid of the whole nonsense around being able to play for the under-21s when you’re 23: the moment you hit your birthday, you have to move to the next team up. You’re 28 until you’re 29. That’s how it works.

I genuinely have no idea who would win in a match between the world’s best 35-year-olds and the best 18-year-olds. What Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Daniele de Rossi, Branislav Ivanovic and Dani Alves may lack in pace they more than make up for in nous; and Jadon Sancho, Vinicius Junior, Ryan Sessegnon and Phil Foden are all enthusiatic and exuberant, but also have Ethan Ampadu as their best centre back.

The balance is about perfect: we would instinctively root for either the very young or very old teams, who would be consistent underdogs against the sides in their mid-to-late-20s. Plus, if you were of playing age yourself, you would have an affinity for the side that matches your age, giving you a huge sense of connection and progress against which you could measure the successes and failures of your own life. And isn’t that what football is all about?

Where would each side play? Determined according to the age of each country: San Marino is the oldest, so they get the fogeys. The warm weather is good for their joints, so that works out nicely.


2) At random
Whenever a player hits 18 years old, they get assigned a random number between 1 and 100. This is then their non-club team for the rest of their career: no changes, no takebacks, no resigning from duty.

The success of the Royal Rumble proves that we really like seeing how random numbers turn out, and this would be no different. Imagine the anticipation when an exciting prospect is brought on-stage in front of a giant National Lottery machine and get assigned.

Who is Callum Hudson-Odoi going to play for as his non-club side? Will he get thrown in with Team 46, who have Virgil Van Dijk and Sergio Busquets but are light on attacking creative talent? Or will he get called to those jammy sods in Team 71, who by sheer luck of the draw boast Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Kevin De Bruyne and Alisson? It’s all tremendously exciting – and, best of all, would more or less ensure a level playing field.

Where would each side play? Also decided at random, obviously. This would only help the anticipation on the draft, as we in England would have their eyes out for who was going to be assigned to side 47 (or whatever).


1) Hobbies and interests
This is the main way we subdivide ourselves when given free rein to do so, and so it seems only natural that we let footballers do likewise.

This is the one I’m most in favour of because they would inevitably design their kits and club branding to reflect their love of Fortnite or Game of Thrones or woodland rambling or whatever, and anything that makes the game more like The Warriors is a win in my book. Extra points if you incorporate facepaint.

It would also be great to be able to rally behind players who share your own interests. Imagine finding out that Ross Barkley and Juan Mata were well into Frasier thanks to their caps for the Craneheads, or that Ivan Perisic and Gianluigi Buffon loved crime novels and were starting a new side intent on sniffing out both World Cup glory and criminals. You’d support them so much more passionately if that was also your thing.

The governing bodies would need to police it a bit to ensure their stated interest was genuine, of course, and this would most sensible take the form of a Mastermind-style quiz on each player’s chosen subject, which would also make excellent content.

Where would each side play? Brochures would be provided and the players would democratically select their preference between them.


Steven Chicken is on Twitter