Why a winter World Cup will actually be a good thing.

Manuel Neuer lifts Germany's fourth World Cup trophy in Brazil. Photo: CNN
Manuel Neuer lifts Germany’s fourth World Cup trophy in Brazil. Photo: CNN

The first Arabian World Cup, scheduled for 2022 in Qatar, seems to have pissed off more or less everyone in the footballing world.

Yet, despite the ongoing arguments over alleged corruption in the Gulf state’s bid to host the competition and the slave labour that is apparently being used to complete state-of-the-art venues, the competition looks to be going ahead.

Surely slaves and corruption in the 21st Century are the biggest gripes for tournament sponsors and the footballing elite, right?

Wrong.

It seems that February’s announcement confirming that the World Cup in Qatar will be the first in the competition’s history to be played in winter has really set the cat among the proverbial pigeons.

This move, because of Qatar’s extreme summer temperatures, has even provoked potential legal action from both the Australian and English FA’s, with the latter’s chief executive complaining that a mid-season World Cup could: “result in damaging one of the English game’s great traditions” – the Christmas football programme. 

I don’t know about you, but personally, I can’t be doing with the hugely congested Christmas fixture list.

Maybe it’s due to that drunken haze that we usually experience for the week before Christmas and up until New Year, but personally, I can never remember what day of the week it is, let alone tell who Southampton are playing for the third time in the week.

The players are always knackered, end up getting injured and seasons can be ruined.

But hey-ho, it’s “one of the English game’s great traditions,” right?

Christmas football

Messi for Christmas? Surely better than the Queen's speech? Photo:  Total Pro Sports
Messi for Christmas? Surely better than the Queen’s speech? Photo: Total Pro Sports

So why will the winter World Cup actually be amazing? Well, alluding to Mr Scudamore’s point, festive football can be great.

There is a buzz about everyone around about Christmas time; with work winding down for the year, families get together, high streets bustle and, of course, there is a little extra licence to spend more time in the pub.

Imagine, instead of watching Newcastle get pumped 4-0 for the second time in the space of three days, you could get your pre-drinking on to the World Cup semi-final?

For one year only, you can replace the heartache of your local team getting battered, to enjoy the world’s best players fighting for football’s holy grail.

Seeing England knocked out on penalties for the 70th time will be an early Christmas present for all of us north of the border.

England could go home and concentrate on being overpaid for their domestic clubs. Photo: NY Daily News
English players could go home early and concentrate on being overpaid for their domestic clubs. Photo: NY Daily News

Accumulative fatigue

We may see the Christmas fixture list as one of the last bastions of British football; a tradition that has always been and always will be. We always ask whether those foreign players can “do it on a Tuesday night in Stoke?”, but I think a better question is whether they can do it for four games in eight long December days?

Of course they can’t. It’s almost impossible.

The physical nature of modern football has reached such peak levels that recovery time is more important than ever. While it’s great for the punter to see a game every other day as they scoff another turkey sandwich into their gob, the physical toll on the players is another matter.

It’s the old question of quantity over quality: which do you prefer?

Sure, it’s fantastic to see the Premier League’s finest playing so often, but is it really so much fun when they are only 60% fit?

The World Cup would act as somewhat of a winter break (which is another debate, for another day) for most of the players. Let’s face it, unless you’re one of the top 11 players from one of the top four countries in the world, you’re going to either be out of the competition by the quarter-finals, sitting watching on the tele because you’re team were too shite to qualify or you’re doing a Pepe Reina and keeping the bench warm for your pals.

Pepe Reina - never played a minute in Spain's 2010 World Cup triumph; celebrated like he won it all by himself. Photo: Football Geeza
Pepe Reina – never played a minute in Spain’s 2010 World Cup triumph; celebrated like he won it all by himself. Photo: Football Geeza

The adverse is also true when it comes to the World Cup.

In recent years we have watched World Cup’s explode into action with some free-flowing group stage games, only for the goals and enthusiasm to peter out after the second round.

Of course, with more on the line, teams can tighten up and opt to not lose rather than win.

However, it has been suggested that players are, in fact, just too knackered to play at their optimal level.

Look at the teams which made the last four of the 2014 World Cup: Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Germany.

A 2014 study showed that Brazilian players had accumulated 22659 minutes of football in the Champions League group stage of that year. Germany’s 13402 minutes took them to third place, while finalists Argentina and fallen semi-finalists Holland came in 7th and 9th respectively.

Bear in mind that these stats are just for the Champions League group phase, discounting the latter rounds and other competitions such as the Europa League and domestic club competitions.

Champions League group stage minutes by players from each country (2013/14 season).
Champions League group stage minutes by players from each country (2013/14 season).

With the football calender starting in mid August, it is no wonder that players are absolutely beat in early July, having played at the highest level for the best part of 11 months without a break.

A December 18th final – as proposed – will allow players to hit the ground running in the World Cup, already in their stride, without fatigue or rustiness.

How often have we heard of the supposed advantage a Russian team has when coming up against English opposition during the qualifying rounds of the Champions League because their season has been going for two months and the players are in a groove?

Too many times, actually.

Legacy

For all the faults in the bidding process, the decision to take FIFA’s showpiece event to a region which had previously never had a prayer is both brave and forward thinking.

While Qatar is actually the world’s richest country, the region surrounding it throws up connotations of religious tension, oppressive regimes and ongoing conflicts.

If we think of the competition the same way that we did (slightly condescendingly) in 2010 with South Africa, we can view the tournament as one for the continent. A Middle Eastern, not Qatari, World Cup.

FIFA isn’t a peace keeping mission by any means, but as so many optimistic, clichéd opinions have told me in the past, sport is always a great beacon for hope.

There is no escaping that there is controversy around every corner with the 2022 World Cup, and seven years is a long time in football – a lot could change. I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise many of us if we’re looking back at this article in five years time and laughing about how ludicrous the idea of a Gulf nation hosting the tournament was, as Australia prepares to step in as emergency hosts.

The fact that the greatest sporting event on Earth has been moved to the winter seems like the most insignificant of all the problems connected with the competition, and one that we should just live with and accept. Let’s spend our energy on working out the real issues.

One month of football in 2022 isn’t going to kill the Premier League, Mr Scudamore. Get over it.

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