Arsene Wenger is the poster boy for the new plans
Hello and welcome to football’s latest instalment of More, More, More! As if there aren’t already enough fixtures, competing interests and politics in the game, in swings the very real prospect of a World Cup every two years waving and winking at us.
This materialised as a proposal by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in May, with a feasibility study being conducted into the practicality of changing the tournament’s four-year cycle.
Actually, scratch that. Fifa, through Arsene Wenger who has become the poster boy for this development, has embarked on a PR offensive to get the idea out there and ultimately over the line.
The governing body strongly believes that the vacant off-seasons are going to attract the advent of new competitions or meaningless games anyway. It makes more sense to them to rather hold an established contest that can benefit more nations around the world through this greater regularity.
Everyone agrees that the international match calendar needs to be altered. While Fifa has tackled that within its plan for a World Cup every two years, the concept of increasing the regularity of its showpiece event has attracted staunch opposition from Uefa and European Leagues, as well as fan groups.
In the main, however, there is great support: 166 of their 211 national associations have backed research into the switch.
Let’s not skirt around the real motivation: there is mega money to be made from upping the number of World Cups. Feel those sponsorships coming in…
The international game cannot match the power of the club version, financially, commercially, or status-wise.
Its sole pull factor is the World Cup, a trophy which remains the most prized in the sport. But wouldn’t that diminish somewhat with an edition every two years? Surely, this is more about the bottom line?
Wenger, who is Fifa’s Chief of Global Football Development, cares not for the dollars but for the genuine growth it can bring to nations beyond Europe.
Sometimes the football sphere needs a reminder that its axis is not just this continent.
There is also clear disdain from Fifa for the opportunist tournaments that keep cropping up, which profit from the game but don’t give anything back to it.
Why does Fifa think a World Cup every two years is a good idea?
The World Cup began its four-year cycle in 1930 – 91 years ago – and there are a lot more countries now. There were 15 new ones alone when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved in 1991. In the near century of the tournament’s lifespan, there have been 79 nations at the World Cup – 132 of Fifa’s associations have never participated.
There would also be more countries given host status.
Fifa says its starting point is the development of the sport around the world – closing the Europe versus the rest gap. It says there will be an increased chance for new debutants with 96 opportunities to qualify under a bi-annual tournament as opposed to the 32 slots over a four-year period.
How the football calendar might look during a World Cup year in option one
This also represents a chance to overhaul the chaotic international match calendar and address the increasingly taxing demands placed on players.
Fifa vows that under this design there will be reduced matches and enhanced recovery time.
What has Fifa said about the international calendar?
Currently there is a 80-20 per cent split in favour of club football in the schedule. Fifa’s plans would keep that, but scrub the international windows regularly cutting into the domestic game, which is a burden for club managers.
The status quo is five international breaks (September, October, November, March), plus the off-season when tournament commitments allow.
For the way forward, Fifa has proposed two options: one window for the entirety of October, or two windows in October and March.
These, they feel, will reduce the amount of travel for players, allowing greater recovery. A comparison between the 2014-2018 cycle and the proposed 2026-2030 phase calculated that Leo Messi’s travel, for example, would drop from 301,747km to 137,037km.
There would be a mandatory 25-day rest period for players after the World Cup.
Fifa calculates there will be fewer days needed for qualifiers – around six of them – which will lead to an earlier finish in the club season, meaning players will get a longer break.
Managers – both at domestic and international level – will have their players for longer and with a less disruptive fixture list.
What have England’s domestic leagues said?
The Premier League and the EFL have expressed their opposition.
An official statement reads: “The leagues have firmly and unanimously opposed any proposals to organise the Fifa World Cup every two years.
“The leagues will work together with the other stakeholders to prevent football governing bodies to take unilateral decisions that will harm domestic football which is the foundation of our industry and of utmost importance for clubs, players and fans across Europe and the world.
“New competitions, revamped competitions or expanded competitions for club and national team football both at continental level and/or at global level are not the solutions to the current problems of our game in an already congested calendar.
“The football calendar definitely requires the agreement of all stakeholders and can only be the result of a subtle balance between club and national team football and between domestic and international club football.”
What questions are being asked?
We already have an expanded World Cup giving more nations a chance of featuring. Does this proposal really address the gap between Europe and the rest?
How the football calendar might look during a World Cup year in option two
The thinking is that more opportunities to qualify would offer associations in developing nations greater incentive to advance the game in the area. But as has often been the case, FAs have mismanaged money and lined their own pockets instead of funding the growth of the sport. There’s talk of a tournament during the World Cups for the nations that don’t qualify to keep them competitive and improving which would have a promotion slant – a sort of global Nations League structure. But there’s still a struggle to see how exactly there would be a direct impact on the quality of football in developing nations.
How on earth would the qualifiers work?
Fifa insists it is confident that it will find the right format for the different regions and their unique requirements. Africa, for example, has 54 member nations but just nine slots in a 48-team World Cup. How would that be decided in six qualifiers?
How will higher quality games be guaranteed? And would a one-month gap in club football during the season be too much to bear for invested fans?
Has any consideration been given to players based in Europe who are from different continents and enjoy the regularity of returning home during international breaks?
Why can’t Fifa, together with FIFPRO, enforce the mandatory 25-day break without needing to change the World Cup cycle?
Why can’t the game be advanced in developing regions and the international schedule be fixed without crowbarring in more World Cups?
More World Cups means more bidding processes, stadiums and an increased carbon footprint… Is any of that really necessary?
The World Cup is already being used for sportswashing. Would that not balloon in a two-year cycle?
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