New proposals mean no rest for players

“There is too much football,” said Brian Clough — and that was almost 40 years ago.
New proposals mean no rest for players

He meant there was too much football on television of course, and as ever, Mr Clough was ahead of his time.

It was not until five years after that memorable BBC interview with a bug-eyed John Motson that English games were first broadcast live (by ITV).

Happily, the interview is preserved on YouTube, so we can enjoy anew Motson’s fate at the hands of football’s arch-discombobulator.

Wherever the spirit of Clough now resides — and remember he disapproved of football in the air, as well as on air — you can be sure he would be withering about the planned 48-nation World Cup finals.

At the time of that interview, in 1978, the finals still involved just 16 teams. That sounds like an elite tournament, but among the finalists were Peru and Scotland as well as Iran and Tunisia.

They were there on merit. Tunisia had battled through four intense knockout rounds to eventually come out just ahead of Egypt and Nigeria.

England, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Chile and other football powers had fallen by the wayside. Yet the expansion of the World Cup is both understandable and justifiable. It is not only about profits and politics, as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, head of the European Club Association, alleged last week.

More countries have won the right to nationhood, and in particular football nationhood, which is not always the same thing. Yugoslavia is now seven different football nations, of which four or five will harbour a legitimate hope of qualifying.

It is easy for the Germans to criticise the apparent dilution of the competition, given they have always qualified.

There have been times when they looked down their noses at the likes of Ireland — only in football terms of course. But football can be a great leveller, as they learned against Algeria in 1982, and as we were reminded only last summer when Iceland triumphed against England.

Nine places for Africa in 2026 sounds a lot, but there are four significant football countries in north Africa plus Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and others to the south.

There will still be a battle to qualify in South America, and among the Balkanised states of eastern Europe.

The real argument is about Asian representation, although neither Rummenigge nor Reinhard Grindel of the DGB (Germany’s FA) want to spell that out. They are worried that the balance of power, above all economic power, is moving east, both too far and too fast.

German football, to its credit, has kept the moneymen at bay. But only to an extent.

Rummenigge’s own club, Bayern Munich, has representatives of both Audi and adidas on its board. The ECA mainly represents the interests of the biggest clubs and many of them are still pushing the idea of a European super league.

Moreover, the expanded World Cup would not involve additional matches, so the argument about players being more ‘at risk’ does not stand up. The threat of overkill comes from a different source, and it will be with us as soon as next year, not 2026.

The new Nations League starts just two months after the World Cup in Russia. Four leagues of 12 nations, each divided into four groups, with countries playing each other home and away between September and November. That’s followed in the spring by the opening qualifiers for Euro 2020.

On top of this new European tournament, which also involves promotion and relegation and a prestige finale — the ‘Final Four’ — in June 2019, there will be a new Fifa World Cup for clubs.

The exact form has yet to be announced, but the current betting is on a three-week tournament in June, taking place in alternate years, immediately after the final of the Nations League. There could be 24 clubs involved, maybe 10 from Europe and eight from South America, with the rest from the other continents, playing in eight groups followed by knock-out stages.

Fifa would like this to start in 2019 — preferred venue China. The date could slip a couple of years, but the age of permanent year-round globalised football is almost upon us.

That whirring sound you can hear is Cloughie spinning in his grave.

If you enjoyed this you may like our latest podcast presented by Larry Ryan.

  • Liam Mackey and Chris Hatherall talk Manchester United-Liverpool
  • Simon Curtis on Pep Guardiola’s latest setback
  • Simon Collings on Diego Costa’s Chelsea future
  • And Ken Rooney tries to lift Fantasy Football managers out of their mid-season slump

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