Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Could the 2022 Qatar World Cup force a European super league

Miles Jacobson, studio director at Sports Interactive, the team behind the hugely successful Football Manager series, will be putting the world to rights in a regular column

Once again last week we saw different people at FIFA contradict each other over the timing of the Qatar World Cup.

The official line is that there is a consultation going on with no decision until after the Brazil World Cup, which was re-stated a few hours after Jerome Valke, secretary general of FIFA, had said on French radio that it will not be in June or July, and that the weather was at its most favourable for the tournament between November 15 and the end of December.

Of course, many think that the consultation period doesn’t matter and that the decision has already been made.

They’re not known as a particularly transparent organisation, though are making moves to improve that image. But when you’ve got senior members of the organisation saying the World Cup is moving, it’s a fair bet it will do.

But what is it FIFA are scared of? They “run” football, so can do what they want, surely – whether the fans, leagues and clubs agree or not?

It’s something I spend far too much time thinking about.

My conclusion is that they’re trying to show that they’re prepared to listen and consult because they’re scared that they might lose the goose that lays the golden egg - and not just the World Cup, but running of football itself.

And that could spell the end of international football entirely.

And not just the World Cup, but any international football. Or rather, international football that includes the top level players.

International games are the lifeblood of rugby and cricket and to some football fans still is for the beautiful game too. But the reality is that whereas clubs used to be very proud of players playing for their countries and the reputation boost it gave to the clubs, it matters a lot less to the clubs and many of their supporters now.

There are a bunch of different reasons for this – the obvious one from an English perspective is that so many of the world most successful clubs are now owned (or funded) and managed by people who aren’t from the same country as the club itself.

Do Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho really care about how England do at the next World Cup, or more about how Chelsea do in the Champions League? Do the Glazers care about England or when Robin van Persie will be back from injury?

When the Premier League started, it was the FA Premier League. Over a short few years, the FA part was dropped. It became clear that the Premier League was owned by its members - the clubs.

There are parts of the game that the FA is still in control of that are necessary for the PL member clubs, but essentially it’s a tournament out on its own, and a winter World Cup could cause problems for those clubs financially.

A reschedule of the fixtures for the season - essentially a two month winter break with an elongated end of season - obviously makes the club season longer.

Sponsorships would end later, and start later, so good value for money for those already in place, but the loss of some income from clubs whose coffers would be going up from season to season. A shorter pre-season too, so less income from foreign touring, and less time for players to get prepared, especially new signings.

TV companies, who provide most of the money that clubs make at the top level, could use it as a negotiating tactic for lower deals.

Back in September, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who chairs the European Club Association (which speaks for over 200 clubs and leagues in Europe) said: “It is probably better to play it in winter” which many took to believe that the clubs were supportive of it, but of all the people in the game on a club level that I've spoken to, not many want to move it – or want their players playing in a tournament with that kind of heat level, air conditioning or not.

At the Leaders in Football conference in October, Galatasaray chairman Unal Aysal gave an even bigger hint at what could happen if clubs are unhappy with the decision - or other decisions that FIFA and UEFA make, when he declared the need for a 20 team European Super League either with or without the support of UEFA.

The current agreement between UEFA and the European Club Association runs out in 2018, and Aysal said: “The system has to be put in place, either by UEFA or the clubs themselves. Then we will decide if a breakaway will be necessary or not.”

And if there is a European or World Super League before the Qatar World Cup, and outside of the realms of UEFA and FIFA, what then for international football?

Would it continue to be run by FIFA, with footballers not playing in FIFA sanctioned tournaments being allowed to take part? Or would international football continue, just without the top players?

It seems to me that the business people who own and run Europe’s biggest clubs - away from the dream situation of fan owned clubs in Germany- are becoming more and more frustrated with having to dance with FIFA’s tune. And UEFA’s. And their local FA’s.

If, as seems likely, FIFA has already decided to go ahead and impose a winter World Cup in 2022, they might just be in danger of giving those people a gift wrapped excuse to wrestle control away from the governing body – and it’s hard to see how that would be a good thing for international football.

Miles is Studio Director at Sports Interactive and is the director of Football Manager. He can be found on Twitter @milessi. The fee for his column will be donated to War Child.

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