So the suits at the Premier League have made their pronouncement and arrangements for the 2022/23 season have been confirmed. There was nothing remotely surprising as their intention had been transparent for some time.
The Premier League programme will begin on Saturday 6 August and pause for the World Cup following the last round of games on 12-13 November. This gives players one week to join up with national squads and acclimatise to conditions before the tournament begins on 21 November.
A fully fledged dog’s dinner is completed by the Premier League’s projected restart date. Games will resume on Boxing Day just a week after the final on 18 December. The season will conclude on 28 May, which is roughly two weeks later than the usual finish time.
With the programme on pause for six weeks, teams will have around eight games to accommodate. It will be a tight squeeze with Cup games and players disappearing for European Championship qualifiers. Whilst the Premier League cannot not be blamed for a mess engineered by FIFA, they’ve not exactly covered themselves in glory either.
To allow only a week between the final and re-commencement ignores the possibility that Premier League players could be involved in the final. They will naturally be key players for their respective clubs and need some time to recover.
There is the three hour time difference and a simple need for players to wind down with their families. But it seems the bean counters are calling the shots and pulling the strings. Yes, the TV companies have in all likelihood shown clubs the sharp end of the stick. After all, no live Premier League football means no lucrative advertising space to sell.
But would it really kill them to restart in the New Year? It seems to reignite the age old debate of club versus country. Are players able to give everything for their countries unfettered and free from the influence of clubs?
With the World Cup wedged into the domestic season, they will be distracted by an ongoing campaign that is increasingly prominent. Not only is the Premier League on hold, European competition will be similarly suspended.
Hand on heart, what do players value more; the World Cup every four years or the Champions League every season? How many managers will be secretly hoping certain countries are eliminated from the competition early; then players can return to their clubs much sooner.
David Moyes is a case point and might be logically thinking: ‘I hope the Czechs go out early then I’ll get Soucek, Coufal and Kral back free of injury with fresh legs’. The World Cup should be the gold standard where players test themselves at the very highest level. But the feeling persists that it’s being undermined by various political agendas.
There are many parallels with the diminishing status of the FA Cup. The world’s oldest football competition was sacrosanct in the calendar and once beamed to every country on earth. The final is now little more than a footnote competing with other fixtures played on the same day. By going to Qatar isn’t the World Cup being treated with similar disdain?
It might still retain a gilt edged corporate appeal, but is in danger of losing its status as football’s premier competition. This theory gains more currency with the persistent idea the World Cup should be staged biennially. The clubs are outraged and have confirmed their unanimous opposition to the plan.
One might hope FIFA will recognise where their bread is buttered and file this one in the ‘stupid ideas’ folder. But I fear they won’t let it go and a stand-off will ensue between clubs and FIFA. Just imagine a World Cup every two years and the strain it would place on traditional host venues.
The Qatar scenario will be a common occurrence if there was a biennial competition. FIFA will be forced to search further afield for new venues. A tournament staged in Australia and New Zealand is a distinct possibility as the infrastructure is already in place.
There will be no consideration given to time zones, logistics or the chaos it would cause in domestic leagues. It just gives them the excuse to shunt the tournament all over the calendar. TV companies will have a ball making matches fit with broadcasting schedules. It may soon resemble Copa America and the African Cup of Nations with constant tweaking of frequency and format.
I do wonder what our beloved Jimmy Greaves would make of it all; he’d probably just say: ‘It’s a funny old game’.