Tis the season to stage a World Cup
CHRISTMAS is traditionally the time when wise men are said to converge on the Middle East but sadly, FIFA seem to be rather short on wisdom if they think that playing the World Cup Final in Qatar in mid-December is a smart move.
For it appears that after months of sheepishly averting their eyes every time the dread word 'Qatar' is mentioned, FIFA has now decided to come out fighting. The always outlandish idea of playing the World Cup there in the midst of the summer has finally been throttled and the FIFA taskforce has concluded that World Cup 2022 will take place through November and December.
Let us for the moment ignore the rather inconvenient and perhaps litigation-inducing truth that FIFA requested bids for a summer World Cup when it put 2022 out to tender and think instead just where that finally leaves us.
As far as the club game in Europe goes – the powerhouse of the game and its finances - the answer is absolute chaos. Essentially, we are talking about a competition that will straddle several months when we take into account preparation as well as the tournament itself, a bloated version of the African Cup of Nations, which also takes place in the middle of the European season.
But where clubs can survive the loss of a player or two for the duration of that competition, how are the likes of Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barcelona going to take to losing virtually their entire squads for a couple of months? And just what does that mean for the organisation of the domestic competitions?
FIFA are taking a belligerent stance now that their taskforce has spoken, saying that the World Cup will take place and that there will be no compensation to clubs or leagues who find its timing, shall we say, unhelpful.
I suspect they protest too much and that this is posturing ahead of what they must know will be an avalanche of legal action. Let’s be grown up about it and face facts. There is no way on earth that the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga could run at the same time as the World Cup is there? Just imagine the World Cup was happening this winter and not seven years hence. What kind of a team would Real Madrid be able to field? Or Juventus? Or Manchester City?
We will also be living in a world of the broadcast deal after the next one, in a landscape where there’s every likelihood that each game is on television. Are the broadcasters going to want to pay up for months of what will effectively be under-21s football? And with the time difference between Qatar and mainland Europe just a couple of hours, good luck playing your bog standard league fixture at the same time as Italy are taking on Germany or when Spain are facing England. It is simply unthinkable.
Allied to that, the idea that the final itself will take place in late December will be sending a chill through the bones of accountants at many a football club, especially in Britain, for it is the Christmas fixtures that traditionally guarantee bumper crowds and a few extra quid in the cash box that can be an absolute Godsend to some.
So forgive me for being a little cynical if I ask whether the December final has been deliberately chosen just to make mischief or if it has not been laid down as a bargaining chip at the start of this hand of poker?
Here are the starting positions. The European leagues in particular do not want a winter World Cup. FIFA does.
Who would bet against FIFA, in a spirit of benevolent comradeliness, eventually saying: “Tell you what, we’ll shift it so that the whole thing takes place in November. How’s that for you?” At which point, the assorted leagues of the world hold their collective noses and sign up to a deal they don’t want but which is the least worst option open to them.
Such is realpolitik. Because after all, do you really think all those FIFA dignitaries are going to want to try and get a last minute flight home in time for Christmas?