FIFA, you cannot be serious!
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.