Gareth Southgate has weighed up the pros and cons of a World Cup every two years if FIFA’s latest initiative is given the green light.
He said he is “open-minded” to the concept after meeting with Arsène Wenger, FIFA’s chief of global football management, but insists football’s current framework must change for the better if it is to be introduced.
Southgate most notably states he is in favour of “better quality” and says this is unachievable by persistently adding in more competitions.
“I actually met with Arsène a couple of weeks ago,” Southgate said. “he was meeting a few different coaches so I have a pretty good idea of the proposals.”
“I think the whole calendar needs reviewing. My feedback would be I know our generation are going to find a World Cup every two years quite a strange concept.
“But I also know that things like The Hundred in cricket have been an incredible success, so I’m open-minded about some of those things.
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“But the calendar generally needs to be tidied up. We can’t just add more in. I agree generally with the concept of better quality matches, fewer matches [of] better quality across the board, but there are lots of other things that need consideration. We can’t just add more in at the moment.
“We keep adding more competitions in and I’m intrigued to see what comes out to allow that space to happen because we can’t keep adding onto the workload of the players.”
The England manager followed up on this issue by stating the need for football unions to have a crucial role in the possibility of a reformed international schedule.
“I think [the players] should be represented by players’ unions,” Southgate continued. “You cannot go into individual players, that would take forever.
“The players’ unions could gather the thoughts of the players and I just think everybody has to work together on the calendar.
“We talked about this after Covid and you can’t keep adding. We have had some fixtures that have been so difficult, if you think back to last September when the players had not played a league game, then we were expected to play at a high level in international fixtures.
“We can’t keep adding in those things. But none of us in the game are holding our hands out for less money, so we also have to accept that comes with a consequence.”
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Southgate also conceded that football is at risk of losing the “allure” surrounding the World Cup if it was held biennial. However, he realised how the new structure would give players greater opportunity to play in the famous competition.
“It was interesting to hear the proposals and I was able to feedback some of my thoughts.
“Without knowing how all that fits together because it’s too complex to say it was all positive or I didn’t agree with it all. There are too many different strands, so there are bits I thought could work, bits I think need more consideration and bits that probably wouldn’t work.
“I’m not hugely pro or massive negative about the concept. I think it needs a lot more thought. As a traditionalist, it feels you could lose some of the allure of the World Cup because the scarcity of it makes it more important.
“But I also get it that if you are a player who has an injury for the World Cup, you might only get one opportunity every eight years, and that is really tough. I am not certain on that side of it.”
He added: “There is a balance to all this but across the board governing bodies have to work for a calendar that works for the leagues and confederations and for FIFA. It has to be coordinated. If we are looking that far ahead, there is no reason it can’t be.”
In an interview with the French outlet L’Équipe, Arsène Wenger explained various issues surrounding the proposal. In his view, it would improve world football’s quality and structure.
“The goal is to keep improving the quality of football by increasing the frequency of competitions, alongside an improvement to the laws of the game,” Wenger said.
“The international calendar will remain stable until 2024 since it’s already set. But after 2024, there’s a chance to change it. I would like to increase the frequency of competition, in a way that’s led by simplicity, a clear calendar, and a desire to only organise competitions that have real meaning to them, which are those which allow an improvement in the level of football.”
The plan set out that qualifying matches will be completed over two international breaks – October and March – causing club managers to be without their players for two months during the season.
Wenger says this is to create “greater visibility in the calendar” and to help clubs and international teams and “reduce the number of qualifying matches”. The former Arsenal manager says the number of qualifiers would be reduced from ten to six.
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The Frenchman also dismissed the accusation that these plans are financially motivated and his research shows people are “100 per cent” in favour.
“The idea is really to improve the level of play and competitions, there’s no financial incentive behind it, especially as FIFA redistributes the money to all of the federations around the world to develop football in their countries,” Wenger said.
“For the players, there won’t be more matches, and there will be a compulsory rest time after international competitions – 25 days at least, as I see it.
“It would be a time completely dedicated to qualifiers and to national teams, which would create a tension which doesn’t exist today. I think it’s an interesting idea. I’ve been working on it for six months now, consulting on it, and the reception has been 100% favourable. It’s a well-thought-out overhaul, but then I’m not the one who will be voting on it.”
Likewise, Wenger also rejected the notion the World Cup would lose its “allure” as Southgate suggests.
“I think a competitor does so every week, in every competition. They always want to prove their worth and come up against the best. What they don’t want is to play matches that don’t stimulate them and don’t have much meaning to them.
“If we were to let the length of time between tournaments increase the privilege of playing them, we would have to play a World Cup every ten years. You have to have the courage to tell yourself that the beauty and prestige of competition depend more than anything on the quality of it.
“What we shouldn’t do is organise cheap new competitions, we can only propose the best. The frequency of these competitions aren’t the issue, it’s the quality of them.
Finally, FIFA’s chief of global football development believes the European leagues can be won over by the “win-win” scenario the plans generates.
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“The clubs will have their players all to themselves for seven months minimum. It’s a win-win for them. They’ll have their players constantly with them in the period when they need them the most.
“Having often been confronted with that myself, I know that it’s a real problem. Instead of having four breaks where clubs can lose their momentum because of internationals, there will only be two, or even one.
“Personally, I would prefer to have the whole of October for national teams and nothing in March. But even if we keep the plan for two international breaks for qualifiers, there will only be two instead of five, plus the tournament in June. It’s important to note that this is a global project, for men’s football but also for women’s football and youth tournaments.
“In the end, this is a project which answers to an assessment I’ve held my whole life: I’ve always been happier to get up in the morning when I know I’ll be watching a great match in the evening. And I’ve always said that that’s the real goal of a manager: to give supporters the hope of something beautiful.”
Southgate diplomacy vs division
Gareth Southgate’s comments highlight his willingness to be diplomatic on an issue that has divided football since FIFA sanctioned a feasibility study on the topic.
It is believed FIFA has already garnered support from African and Asian Football Associations and there are whispers that the France Football Federation might break from UEFA’s vigorous opposition.
UEFA president Alexander Ceferin wrote a response to Football Supporters Europe stating he had “serious reservations and grave concerns surrounding reports of FIFA’s plans”.
“Considering the major impact this reform may have on the whole organisation of football, there is widespread astonishment that FIFA appears to be launching a PR campaign to push its proposal whilst any such proposals haven’t been presented to confederations, national associations, leagues, clubs, players, coaches, clubs and all the football community,” Ceferin said.
Feels like FIFA’s plan for a World Cup every 2 years is looking inevitable. Results of feasibility study not in, but support from FAs pouring in. Africa (now FIFA subsidiary) first to fall in line, and now it looks like Asia is, too. pic.twitter.com/3IriknpMmV
— tariq panja (@tariqpanja) September 2, 2021
Ceferin believes that the proposal would mean there would be little space for women’s football to grab the spotlight as the men’s game will be playing in a major tournament every summer
“As one concrete example amongst so many, it is imperative to highlight the concerns shared across the footballing world regarding the impact a biennial FIFA World Cup would have on the international match calendar and, prominently in this context, on women’s football.”
How quickly FIFA can get support over its nemesis is yet to be seen. The idea that less-developed nations will be in favour due to greater FIFA funds will stress Ceferin.
The UEFA president will need UEFA’s FA’s and federation’s, league’s and the player’s to stay united as well as more allies to defeat FIFA on this world-shaking proposal.
The 211 national football associations and federations will need to vote at a FIFA congress for the plans to become a part of football’s new structure.