The proposal from Gianni Infantino for a 48 team World Cup has been met by an almost unanimous stream of opprobrium by twitter users. Or it was at least opposed by the twitter users I follow. And I guess that’s the point? Most of the people I follow have a UK or US centric view on football/soccer. Both England and the United States are likely to comfortably qualify for 32 team World Cup, despite the best efforts of each country not do (Thanks Allardyce/Klinsmann).
The obvious worries are that it will water-down the competition, that there’ll be too many games and that it will make the Panini album almost impossible to complete without a small bank-loan. All of these concerns are valid (especially the last one). However, if you view the 48 team World Cup from an Asian or African perspective then there are likely to be many more people keen on the idea. After all, only a limited number of countries qualify from these two huge continents and the thought of a couple more places for each continent would surely be voted for by the majority of AFC and CAF nations.
Rather than directly oppose the idea of a 48 team World Cup with groups of three, perhaps the football community should come up with a better format for this World Cup. Perhaps the best 24 nations in the World should qualify automatically, with the second best 24 sides playing off (either in groups of four, or as a straight playoff) for the final 12 places in a 32 team World Cup. This could easily be accommodated in the weeks leading up to a tournament when sides are normally playing warm-up games.
Like many things in football, if the idea makes money it’s likely to be implemented. And 48 teams means more games, and more money. It also gives the nations with the larger TV audiences (like England and USA) that extra bit of leeway, just in case they do wish to employ Gareth Southgate and Bruce Arena as national team coaches.
The Football League caused a storm on social media yesterday when it announced plans to reduce the sizes of divisions and add a further eight clubs to the ‘professional game’. It was a surprising move from an organisation that had surely viewed the feedback from Greg Dyke’s B-Teams proposals from two summers ago. Football fans on the whole are conservative, and do not like their game being meddled with and if you are going to meddle with their game, you have to make it clear how it will benefit them. Unfortunately there was little for the fans within the proposal. While it’s clear that the Football League had consulted with the Premier League and the Football Association, it appears that other stakeholders such as football supporters, the non-league game and even the clubs in the Football League themselves weren’t consulted.
The press release is interesting as it makes many claims about fixture congestion, costs of travel and the potential for increased revenues. Where has this information come from? It would be fascinating to know what studies the Football League undertook in order to come to these conclusions. The Football League don’t appear to have consulted the clubs themselves regarding the proposal, so it’ll be interesting to find out what data they used to draw their conclusions from.
While having exactly 100 clubs may satisfy those who enjoy completeness and order, it does raise some interesting questions. One it changes the nature of the FA Cup. Traditionally all Football League sides enter the FA Cup at the First Round stage. Surely this can’t continue if eight more clubs are being added to the league? These clubs can’t automatically gain a First Round berth, as it would restrict entry for the rest of the non-league pyramid. Additionally the non-league pyramid would have to change itself as it would potentially lose eight clubs. The obvious solution is for the upper echelons of the non-league pyramid to slim down the National League (24), South (22) & North (22) to 20 to match the Football League.
What remains most puzzling about this announcement isn’t its contents. It’s that they didn’t feel the need to try and take the clubs with them when coming up with a proposal. Surely if you want to enact change, you need to try and bring as many people with you as you can. Whether it’s arrogance or simply incompetence, it’s hard to tell. What does seem clear from this proposal and the B-Team nonsense is that some sort of change is on the horizon. The Premier League came in 1992, the leagues renamed to the current Championship, League One and League Two in 2004, and if these things go in 12 year cycles we’re due a change. Whether that change is seen as a good one for fans and clubs remains to be seen.