FWA SPOTLIGHT: QATAR 2022
Who do you think you are kidding Mr Blatter,
If you think your plan will work?
There are too many matches that will stop your little game,
Which eventually will make you think again,
'Cause who do you think you are kidding Mr Blatter,
If you think your plan is dusted and done?
(with apologies to Bud Flanagan and Dad’s Army)
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
Has anyone at FIFA seriously thought it through? A 2022 World Cup in the winter? Really, have any of world football’s powerbrokers even had an informal chat about the prospect of moving Qatar 2022 from summer to winter? Jotted down a few ideas how it could possibly be done?
For a start, there will be inevitable legal challenges to any change of dates, with national associations and European television broadcasters at the front of the queue. M’luds will be licking their lips in anticipation.
There will be continuing heated (no pun intended) debates because of the 22-man FIFA executive committee who, in December 2010, voted for a summer World Cup in the sauna of Qatar – two members from Tahiti and Nigeria were already suspended – nine more have been replaced or stepped down, some amid allegations of financial impropriety (which is putting it mildly).
Sepp Blatter will hold talks with the executive committee in October and what the FIFA president wants, the FIFA president usually gets. So a 2013 FIFA executive committee significantly different from the 2010 panel that gave Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup in the summer will, if Blatter gets his way, change the timing to winter. And then leave UEFA and the 54 national associations with the impossible job of finding a way round a winter World Cup.
It was all so avoidable had there been an outbreak of common sense before the Qatar vote was cast.
Putting the legalities of it all to one side, let’s concentrate on the practicalities of disrupting the hugely lucrative European season for what would be the best part of two months.
For damage limitation purposes it would probably be better if the 2022 World Cup ended in December, when the Bundesliga and other leagues traditionally start a winter break because that way some players would not be thrown straight back into league action, though whenever the tournament is rescheduled would cause widespread fixture chaos. There is no “good” time to stage a winter finals.
Let’s say the 2022 World Cup started on November 10 and finished on December 11. There would be a minimum of two weeks between the last league games and the opening World Cup tie which means the domestic season would break on the weekend of October 22/23.
In between last season’s corresponding October dates and mid-December, there were 10 Barclays Premier League games, two Capital One Cup rounds and matchdays 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Champions League [there were also four Europa League dates] – a total of 16 matches; in La Liga there were eight league matches, three ties of the Copa del Rey plus the Champions League – 15 matches; in the Bundesliga there were nine games, one DFB Cup round plus the Champions League – 14 matches; in Serie A there were eight league games, one Coppa Italia plus the Champions League – 13 matches.
The good news is the qualifying programme for Euro 2024 will not be affected and, almost certainly, neither would the Football League because so few players would be selected.
The problem, and this is hardly a closely guarded secret, is that domestic calendars are already full to bursting point with fixtures, not least for those clubs who advance in the two European cup competitions. The August and February international friendly dates could be scrapped while in the Barclays Premier League there is usually a spare midweek towards the end of August. Apart from that it is a solid diet of weekend/midweek fixtures with virtually no respite.
By starting the domestic seasons a week earlier in 2022/23 plus some shoe-horning in of league games in August, three extra games could be accommodated. Only seven Barclays Premier League matches, one Capital One round and four rounds of the Champions League to slot in somewhere, then.
The Barclays Premier League would resume, presumably, the weekend after the 2022 World Cup final – December 17/18. But for many of those involved in Qatar it would be straight back to international club football with the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Winning the Champions League in 2021/22 will be a double-edged sword.
And so to the second half of the domestic season. Winter breaks would be shortened while from an English perspective there may be two spare midweeks if the February 2023 international friendly date is also scrapped and you are not still involved in the League Cup. There are also potential FA Cup replays while in March there will be two Euro 2024 qualifiers.
In an unprecedented act of squeezing a quart of football fixtures into a pint calendar this is how the 2022/23 season for one of the Premier League’s leading clubs may have to look in order to accommodate a winter World Cup in Qatar. And if it looks a ridiculous schedule, it is nowhere near as ridiculous as initially giving Qatar the 2022 World Cup in the summer and then, two and a half years later, Blatter proposing a change to a winter tournament. News of 50 degree summers in the Middle East obviously takes time to reach presidential ears in Switzerland.
July 31..............Community Shield
August 7...........Barclays Premier League
August 17.........BPL/Champions League qualifying tie
August 24.........BPL/CL qualifying tie
August 31.........League Cup
September 9.....Euro 2024 qualifying tie
September 13...Euro 2024 qualifying tie
September 21...Champions League group stage (matchday 1)
September 28...League Cup
October 5........Champions League group stage (matchday 2)
October 14......Euro 2024 qualifying tie
October 18......Euro 2024 qualifying tie
BREAK FOR QATAR 2022
December 21...Champions League group stage (matchday 3)
December 28...League Cup
January 4........Champions League group stage (matchday 4)
January 8........FA Cup 3rd round
January 11......League Cup
January 18......Champions League group stage (matchday 5)/League Cup
January 25......Champions League group stage (matchday 6)
January 28......FA Cup 4th round
February 15...Champions League Round of 16 (1)
February 19...BPL/FA Cup 5th round
February 22...BPL/League Cup final
March 8.......Champions League Round of 16 (2)
March 12.....BPL/FA Cup quarter-finals
March 17.....Euro 2024 qualifying tie
March 21.....Euro 2024 qualifying tie
April 5.........Champions League Quarter-Finals (1)
April 12.......Champions League Quarter-Finals (2)
April 15/16..FA Cup Semi-Finals/BPL
April 26.......Champions League Semi-Finals (1)
May 3.........Champions League Semi-Finals (2)
May 10.......Europa League final
May 21.......Final BPL fixtures
May 27.......FA Cup final
June 3........Champions League final
June 7........Euro 2024 qualifying tie
Of course, this does not take into account any postponements or FA Cup replays and is looked at from an English perspective. Countries who have winter breaks will have additional problems while UEFA have always ensured teams from league where winter starts early, such as Russia, play away in the December Champions League ties. And to anyone who says this schedule is farcical, I would agree but it is impossible to take seven weeks out of the European season and play those games before and after a winter World Cup. Whatever madcap rescheduling anyone comes up with, to paraphrase Rafa Benitez – you cannot play a World Cup in the winter without absolute mayhem – fact.
Of course, there is the possibility that Team Blatter will come to their senses – not that playing a World Cup in the summer in Qatar is at all sensible – and realise you cannot move the finals without completely disrupting European domestic football which, incidentally, FIFA have no jurisdiction over.
Qatar should never have been given the World Cup in the first place. If it is played as originally scheduled the heat will make it a severe health risk for players, match officials, spectators and everyone involved. If – and despite Blatter’s change of heart it must still remain an ‘if’ - it is moved to the winter then the European season will be in turmoil.
FIFA, the guardians of the game, put world football into a 50 degree mess when they awarded the 2022 finals to Qatar. Whichever solution they come up with to play the World Cup in the winter will create a mayhem never previously experienced in European football.
Heads you lose, tails you lose.