Netherlands-Gibraltar. FIFA president Gianni Infantino will probably label it as a ‘useless’ game, assuming that after the previous 7-0 victory at Gibraltar, the Orange will also have little trouble at home with opponents who were just at the office, the construction site or the police station on Monday. reported if they should not have played against Frenkie de Jong and Virgil van Dijk.
The now forty-year-old striker Lee Casciaro is a police officer in everyday life. Goalkeeper Kyle Goldwin (36) construction worker. Captain Roy Chipolina (38) works at customs, his younger brother Joseph (33) in prison, where he says he is lucky with colleagues who grant him his international football obligations. Men with mundane jobs, playing against millionaires.
A challenging match? For the internationals of Gibraltar probably more than for those of Orange, such as those of Andorra, in turn, it would not have been a disaster that they lost 5-0 to England on Saturday. In response to a tweet from BBC presenter Gary Lineker – who called it absurd that top countries still had to play against such low-flyers – captain Ildefons Lima replied that Andorra is a country like England. “So if Lineker was born in Andorra, wouldn’t he be allowed to play against big teams? Why not?” In Andorra, he added, football isn’t about money and Instagram likes. “It’s purer there.”
They look at it a little differently at FIFA. Qualifying matches like this, which have increased in number due to geopolitical developments – Gibraltar only became an independent football nation this century, as did Montenegro and Kosovo – and which are predictable in terms of outcome would unnecessarily add to the pressure on an already packed schedule. Hence Infantino spoke of “useless games” when he unveiled his plans for a reform of the football calendar in September.
Most important part of those plans? An biannual World Cup. In other words, a World Cup every two years, instead of every four. Of the 210 member FIFA member states, 166 voted for further investigation into the plans. There was also resistance, especially from UEFA. More on that later.
The idea of a World Cup every two years is not new. After all, it was Infantino’s predecessor, Sepp Blatter, who was suspended for fraud, who already opted for it in 1999. At the time, he already claimed what his successor now proclaims, namely that the current World Cup model is an outdated concept. Infantino adds that we live in a 24-hour news economy, a fast-paced dynamic world in which sponsors and younger audiences want more spectacle than that one high mass in four years.
To reinforce the PR offensive, so-called FIFA Legends as Peter Schmeichel, Tim Cahill and Ronaldo (the Brazilian) unanimously support the plan. “An opportunity you can’t pass up,” Schmeichel said. Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also showed his support, from his new role as FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development. In interviews with the BBC and in Le Parisien the Frenchman said there will be fewer international breaks. Fewer qualifying matches means less travel. Calculations by Wenger, for example, showed that Messi flew 300,747 kilometers between 2014 and 2018. In the new plans, that would be more than half less.
Fly out less often
But with a World Cup, there will also be more competitions, right? Yes, the number of days football players are in action will not change much. The change is rather in the number of qualifying matches for a World Cup. That will be less: not ten, as the Dutch national team now plays, but six. During the season, players therefore have to fly out less often.
Think of Ajax player Antony, who now has to travel to South America five times a year to play for Brazil. Or Mohamed Salah, who traveled to Egypt from Liverpool last week, played against Libya there on Saturday, flew on with the team to also play against Libya on Tuesday, and then travels back via Egypt to Liverpool, joining Watford on Saturday at 1.30pm. plays.
It is a lot, according to UEFA. But the European Football Association does not find a World Cup every two years the solution to relieve the pressure on the calendar. Certainly not if the plans are at the expense of smaller member states in the world, apart from the fact that UEFA does not see a World Cup every two years at all, because, among other things, the value of the European Championship is decreasing.
While both organizations believe that too many predictable matches are being played, they think differently about solving that problem. FIFA is considering allowing small football countries to play extra qualifying rounds, so that the Netherlands and England no longer have to play against Gibraltar and Andorra. UEFA wants to protect their interests. Whoever deprives weak brothers of their chances of placement also deprives them of the opportunity to grow. Take Iceland. The island was still 131st in the world ranking in 2012, without experience in a final tournament, but immediately reached the quarterfinals at its first European Championship in 2016, at the expense of Gary Lineker’s England.
Keeping that dream alive is what UEFA is all about. That dream, unrealistic or not, is also a means of maintaining interest. Even in places where they are not used to winning, where they can still hope for the day that they will take over a large country.
Latvia-Netherlands. That match, last Friday, may have been labeled by Infantino as useless. Orange won. Just.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of October 11, 2021