Over the years football has endured a series of dubious innovations that stretch logic to breaking point. The golden goal, 5:30pm kick-offs and officials in pink are examples I would happily send to Room 101. But not even VAR can challenge the mind blowing absurdity of Qatar staging the World Cup.
Corruption and human rights abuses have been well documented; and I don’t propose to re-visit them here. But make no apologies for an assault on the practicalities of such an arrangement. The first red flag is the climate, and temperatures of 50C that could greet participants in the customary summer months of June and July.
So how do we solve this problem? Well it’s obvious – move the tournament to start at the end of November, slap bang in the middle of the domestic season. If players are given sufficient time to join national squads around two months of the domestic season will be lost.
FIFA seems to have overlooked the fact that football is essentially a winter game; and any international tournament would need to be staged during the summer to avoid the domestic league programme. Provided West Ham’s squad remains intact, we could have 13 players at the World Cup; and there will be no close season for injuries to heal.
The domestic season will be ruined with a mid-season break requiring an early start or late finish.
It is wholly unreasonable for the Premier League to resume on Boxing Day. Pending qualification West Ham players could be representing England, France, Poland, Spain, Czech Republic, Croatia, Ukraine, Algeria and Argentina.
Many of whom could progress to the knockout stages. So they could be involved until early December and beyond; surely the Premier League can only resume in the New Year? Taking the World Cup to all corners of the globe is a laudable ambition, after all competition breeds champions.
But it becomes a hopelessly misguided tilt at diversity. Qatar may be a bottomless money pit but have no intrinsic right to stage the tournament. As host nation they have a free pass to the finals, but competed in a series of matches against potential World Cup opponents.
They have won just three of their last 10 internationals defeating Honduras, El Salvador and Grenada. Qatar are ranked 55th by FIFA and have never previously qualified for the World Cup. With only four guaranteed slots from Asia they seem unlikely to qualify under their own steam. Especially with Japan, South Korea, Australia and China in the same Confederation.
Encouraging the game at grass roots level is important, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of quality and depth. It’s time for FIFA to accept that this particular experiment hasn’t worked out.
The game is being dumbed down by nations that aren’t strong enough to compete at the highest level. The powerbase for football always has been (and always will be) Europe and South America. To award host status beyond those shores must nod towards a discernible track record.
For example Mexico, USA and South Africa all have a strong tradition for football and play the game to a reasonable standard. Qatar will never be a major force in world football; to quote the FIFA mantra, is it for the good of the game that the final will be played in Lusail, a city that’s not even built three days before Christmas?
The argument is further compounded by the ludicrous notion that the World Cup should be played every two years. The idea was first mooted by Michel Platini during his ill-fated stint with UEFA. The cudgels have now been taken up by Arsene Wenger in his capacity as Head of Global Football Development at FIFA. It takes fuzzy thinking to new depths as players juggle club with international commitments.
It would rob the World Cup of its mystique, never mind the disruption to domestic leagues and impact on players’ fitness. What a difference a flash new job title makes; had Wenger still been in club management he would be incandescent with rage.
A biennial World Cup also means a biennial European Championship; clubs would be forced to release players for an endless round of competitive fixtures. Yet, the former Arsenal manager is still determined to force the plan through. Wenger hasn’t just changed his tune, he’s playing a completely different instrument.
My mood worsens at the thought of constantly shifting goalposts. Just imagine if FIFA president Gianni Infantino got his own way with a 48 country World Cup. Another attempt to crowbar the minnows onto football’s top table would actually give us a Group P. It only brings to mind hideous 80s quiz show Blockbusters and the immortal line ‘Can I have a P please Bob?’