USAWorld News

In this golden age of football, the threat of overpowering is growing | Fifa

IIt is worth asking the question before embarking on a whining about standing up to the major upheavals of the past. Have I become the old man who yells at the clouds and just opposes everything new? Would I have been against professionalism, the 1925 change in the offside law, the advent of European football, the foundation of the Premier League? Is it just conservative age creep? Maybe. But, equally, it is difficult to watch football and where it may be heading and not be afraid.

In some ways, football has rarely been so good. The Premier League offers this season a title race, a battle for fourth place and relegation to nine teams; almost every game feels consequential. The World Cup provided a classic twist on one of the greatest tales of all time, with the aging star triumphing in the end – and Lionel Messi’s consecration came after extraordinary tension against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals in the final and France in the final.

The Champions League knockout stage has yet to quite take off this season, but in recent years it has been a reliable source of drama and excellent football. Crowds in England, which stretch along the pyramid, have never been higher. Like David Goldblatt’s book The age of soccer makes it clear that the game has never had such universal appeal.

Yet this attraction is precisely what endangers him. It is so popular that it has attracted not only the spivs and chancers that have always hung around its periphery, but also private equity and nation-state oligarchs, dictators and public investment funds. It is vast and global, essentially unregulated and probably unregulated. Greed and gain are everywhere.

Look at the big names in the Football Association who withdrew from Fifa in 1928 over broken hour payments or Football League secretary Alan Hardaker worrying about the televising of matches and the impact of the European Cup and it is easy – and not inaccurate – to see only picky little Englishmen, agents of reaction determined to oppose change and outsiders.

At least, though, they felt like they were doing what was right for the game. Even former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, whose flaws were legion, believed on some level that he was doing what was right. the best for football as well as for himself. Can anyone say the same for Gianni Infantino? For Todd Boehly? For Nasser al-Khelaïfi?

Alan Hardaker (right) secretary of the Football League and its president, Joe Richards, in London in 1961.
Alan Hardaker (right) secretary of the Football League and its president, Joe Richards, in London in 1961. Photography: PA

Infantino’s power base is in Africa, Asia and Concacaf. This is why the president of Fifa has come out in favor of an enlarged World Cup. A bigger World Cup means more slots for Africa, Asia and Concacaf and that means more money for the federations that qualify and, at least in the short term, more money for Fifa. But there was no discussion, no advice, no debate at a Fifa congress about whether an expanded World Cup is desirable.

It was presented as a fait accompli, as evidenced by the fact that the original plan was for 16 groups of three teams, as if no one had thought about the possibility of dead rubbers or arranged results. Twelve groups of four is probably a less bad format, but with eight third-place teams there will be plenty of first-round matches without too much risk. Infantino proudly hailed the Qatar World Cup as the best ever: so why change it?

In 2026, there will be 72 games to eliminate 16 teams. This means a World Cup that will drag on for almost six weeks. Did anyone think interest would wane, as it has for the longer Cricket World Cups? Has research been done? One of the normal processes of how governance works?

But gigantism is everywhere in football. The Swiss system that the Champions League will adopt in 2024-25 replaces a phase that was boring and predictable with another even more boring and more predictable – and longer. Infantino’s revamped Club World Cup is a bloated mess that seems designed largely to give Fifa a lucrative club competition that will lend political clout. That fatigue wears players down and fans eventually get sated doesn’t seem to be anyone’s concern.

A global club competition might have been a good idea if inequality had not been allowed to run rampant for so long. Infantino’s attempt to remedy this is the African Super League, another of his political announcements that lack substance. Originally supposed to feature 20 teams in a closed league, it is still implausibly planned to start in August, even if with 24 or eight teams, alongside or instead of the African Champions League, in what format and with what television agreement , nobody seems to know.

skip newsletter promotion

The only person who could have objected to this is UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin. Europe still has the influence that it could place some sort of check on the wildest excesses. Ceferin and Conmebol president Alejandro Domínguez acted together to avoid Infantino’s wheezing of a World Cup every other year. But Ceferin, after his initial robustness in the fight against the European Super League, is diminished these days, perhaps realizing that the forces determined to take advantage of the game are too rich, too powerful.

Pretty much the only positive thing he has done in almost a year has been to allow a report to be published which admits how wrong UEFA and the French authorities were about the organization of the Champions League final in Paris last year.

After giving in to the top flight by granting them a longer Champions League group stage, Ceferin now appears to be considering easing the timeshare ban. It was bad enough that a club with decades of tradition could be turned into a nursery for a bigger team, but the idea that the same people could own multiple teams in the same competition is a clear attack on the sporting integrity.

It’s much deeper than generational angst. There are threats from all sides. But who will stop them? Who will oppose the exploitation of football for financial and political gain? Who will protect the game itself? That can? And all the while, like the dog in the meme, football bickers, argues over handball and Harry Maguire, distracted by petty rivalries, insisting all is well as the fires draw closer.

Eggs have rarely been so golden; the goose rarely so in peril.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button