The world is a scary, ever-changing place, and a lot can change in such a short time frame.
You only have to look at a map of Europe from the Cold War to see how true this is. 1990 and 1991 were monumental years in the history of Europe, with the fall of Communism seeing the division of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, as well as the re-unification of Germany. In addition, the wars of independence in Yugoslavia during the 1990s saw the emergence of seven new independent states, and the effect of the wars can still be felt to this day, with Serbia refusing to recognise Kosovo as a legitimate sovereign state.
But what if nothing had changed? What if we lived in a world of permanent East-West ideological division? What would the consequences on the state of the world be? More importantly, what would the state of football look like? And in a European landscape where the West is dominant, would bringing these nations back into existence cause a shift in the battle for sporting supremacy?
There are probably more thoughtful issues to come out of such an idea, but this is the most interesting one. In 1976, 36 teams attempted to qualify for the UEFA European Championships. Today, there are officially 55 recognised members of UEFA who compete for a spot in the finals. The international landscape has changed so much in the past 30 years that the tournament would certainly not be expansive, 24-team tournament we know and feel sort of indifferent about today.
Of course, there isn’t any way of knowing for sure how things would have panned out, because, well, it never happened, and there would be far too many factors to take into consideration. For example, it’s impossible to say for sure whether the sports policies of these states would have remained in line with how they were in say, the 1970s, and it’s hard to say whether Ukraine would still have had an influx of nationalised Brazilian footballers as part of the national setup had it remained a part of the Soviet Union. But it’s fun to theorize. The best I can do for now is to imagine what the national teams of these nations would look like today, given the roster of current footballing talent to work with, and see what a hypothetical 23-man squad would look like should the nation qualify for a major tournament. As a footnote, players who have announced their retirement from international football but are still active at club level in the real world will still be considered for selection. In the case of some of these nations, it will quickly become apparent why.
At the end of this series, the teams will be drawn into a hypothetical qualifying draw for the 2020 European Championships, alongside the rest of today’s eligible nations, and we’ll have some fun guessing how they would all do, whether they’d go on a fairytale run to the tournament finals, or whether they’d crash out before they ever got going. So from arguably the best midfield of any international side today to bona fide national stars turning out weekly for Sheffield Wednesday, let’s put on our thinking caps and imagine a simpler world where Communism is still with us today. If you click on the flags below you’ll be taken to the articles about that specific team.
*DISCLAIMER: As someone who doesn’t keep track of all of these players’ progress on a regular basis, some of my opinions could of course be a bit blind, and I may tend to just lean towards players I’ve heard of rather than a more solid basis. May. I’ll do what I can.