FIFA, you can­not be se­ri­ous!

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

IF THE best ideas are the sim­plest, then we might have ap­plauded Gianni In­fantino’s plan for a 48-team World Cup. In fact, there’s a case for say­ing the new FIFA pres­i­dent didn’t go far enough.

Why stop at 48? Why not have the fi­nals con­sist­ing of the whole FIFA she­bang of 211 coun­tries, ter­ri­to­ries, mi­cro-states, ski slopes and puf­fin feed­ing grounds? Why bother with this in­ter­minable 18-month qual­i­fi­ca­tion process at all?

I jest, of course, but it is a de­li­cious thought that the bane of the game could be elim­i­nated at a sin­gle stroke – by a magic bul­let that would end these in­fer­nal dis­rup­tions and al­low club foot­ball’s do­mes­tic sea­sons to take their nat­u­ral course.

Arsene Wenger once mem­o­rably likened the con­script­ing of play­ers from the clubs who pay their wages to “tak­ing the car from the garage with­out even ask­ing per­mis­sion. They will then use the car for 10 days and aban­don it in a field with­out any petrol left in the tank.

“We then have to re­cover it, but it is bro­ken down. Then a month later they will come to take your car again, and for good mea­sure you’re ex­pected to be nice about it.”

You could also say it would be like in­ter­rupt­ing a marathon every few kilo­me­ters and ex­pect­ing the run­ners to stop, take part in a cou­ple of sprints on some far­away track be­fore re­sum­ing at the same spot they left and re­peat­ing the process sev­eral times dur­ing the 42km dis­tance.

We fans share the angst of man­agers as we wait for our favourites to fly back from the Ama­zon, An­des, Sa­hara or wher­ever na­tional ser­vice has taken them, cross­ing our fin­gers that they’ve suf­fered noth­ing worse than a fender ben­der and haven’t had to place their an­te­rior-cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in the over­head locker.

But while they’re away, we are left search­ing for the oc­ca­sional com­pet­i­tive qual­i­fier that might be worth watch­ing out of scores that could put the mak­ers of Val­ium out of busi­ness. And all so the num­ber of fi­nal­ists for the World Cup or ma­jor con­ti­nen­tal cham­pi­onships can be nar­rowed down to the usual sus­pects.

If only In­fantino, who knows a thing or two about draws hav­ing presided over them in his pre­vi­ous life as a Uefa dogs­body, had re­ally hit upon a so­lu­tion for in­ter­na­tional foot­ball. But while FIFA fid­dles and comes up with crack­pot ideas, the in­ter­na­tional game withers be­fore our dis­be­liev­ing eyes.

Fans are fed up: the qual­i­fiers are killing and the fi­nals no longer have the qual­ity that was al­lowed to flourish in the more con­ducive, shorter tour­na­ments of the past. And what a telling tes­ta­ment to the game it is that play­ers con­tinue to quit early in or­der to pro­long their club ca­reers.

Even the dis­graced Michel Pla­tini ac­knowl­edged the prob­lems and was work­ing to­wards hav­ing in­ter­na­tion­als played in blocks be­tween sea­sons. Alas, if any­one thought that foot­ball’s gov­ern­ing bod­ies might be reac­quainted with their mar­bles af­ter the demise of the French­man and Sepp Blat­ter at FIFA, there is only bad news.

In­fantino’s sug­ges­tion be­longs to the Blat­ter pop­ulist tem­plate - hare-brained yet cun­ning, seem­ingly egal­i­tar­ian but en­sur­ing the power re­mains in the hands of a few. Barmy yet bound to suc­ceed. Wor­thy of the worst despots.

The 48-game fi­nals is up there with wider goals, women in shorter shorts, four quar­ters and other Sep­pisms, but of course, a bla­tant vote-win­ner. Never mind the farce of hav­ing a na­tional team, its of­fi­cials and army of fans pre­par­ing for a pos­si­ble three-week stay in a host coun­try know­ing the whole ven­ture could last only 90 min­utes.

And all so they could say they were World Cup “fi­nal­ists” al­beit with an as­ter­isk for­ever against their name. You doubt whether even Blat­ter would have come up with such non­sense.

Ex­pan­sion means that only a hand­ful of na­tions would be ca­pa­ble of stag­ing it but In­fantino thinks he has an an­swer for that. Fol­low­ing Pla­tini’s lead again, just as the next Eu­ros will be held all over Europe in 2020, the Swiss-Ital­ian wants the 2026 World Cup fi­nals to be spread around sev­eral host coun­tries.

In other words, it would not be a fi­nals at all in the true sense of the word; there would be no grand cli­mac­tic party where the foot­ball world comes to­gether but a scat­tered bunch of games that would not feel much dif­fer­ent to the present qual­i­fiers.

Nor is there any ap­petite to take away the next two fi­nals from Rus­sia and Qatar re­spec­tively de­spite the con­tin­ued out­rages per­pe­trated by both na­tions and the lack of a true foot­ball tra­di­tion in either.

Ba­nanas con­tinue to be thrown at black play­ers in Rus­sia, mi­grant work­ers con­tinue to die in Qatar but FIFA won’t risk the law­suits that would in­evitably arise if there were to be a shift. It is far too late to take it from Rus­sia now any­way.

The old guard of FIFA may be fear­ing the next move from the US At­tor­ney-Gen­eral and Swiss au­thor­i­ties but the new guard are pur­su­ing the same dis­cred­ited poli­cies and even dis­banded the anti-racism op­er­a­tion. Job done? Just go to Rus­sia.

Less is not more in their eyes – for them it’s the more the bet­ter. More money for them so they will not slim the game down any more than tur­keys will vote for Christ­mas. In­deed, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It was said of Blat­ter that he had 50 ideas a day and 51 of them were bad. In­fantino has had 48 bad ones al­ready.

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