Ok, straight off the bat, there is no way that this World Cup is going to be a good thing. On almost every conceivable level it is a terrible, terrible idea. Ethically. Ideologically. Logistically. However you choose to look at this decision, it is a dreadful one. The fact that there was no thorough examination of whether it would be feasible to host the tournament during the summer months before the announcement was made is a testament to the incompetence/ corruption/ complete shithousery of FIFA [delete where applicable].
The humanitarian costs that have already been paid for a sports competition that is still 7 years away from occurring are horrifying and shocking and it is an utter disgrace that this is happening with few sanctions.
However, it seems like the FIFA overlords are intent on this still happening so let’s look for some kind of positive. In purely footballing terms, I think there is one to be found when it comes to the Premier League. A tiny speck of light at the end of the tunnel. The silver shilling in this Christmas pudding of death and suffering.
A mid-season World Cup could help redress the competitive imbalance of the Premier League.
Now, before I go on, this is predicated on a lot of assumptions. Predictions make fools of us all, but here we go nonetheless. For this theory to hold any water, things would have to be relatively similar in seven years time to how they are now. If you look at the English football landscape seven years ago and compare it to how things are presently there isn’t a vast amount of difference so I feel vaguely comfortable assuming things won’t have changed that much by Qatar 2022.
Of course, there is the possibility of an oil-rich tycoons plundering their fortunes into Fleetwood Town and turning them into a global mega-force by then; or a revamp of the Champions League format where the top European clubs break away and form their own federation; or even a ‘golden generation’ of players emerging from a traditionally less established nation and changing the face of the international game. All of that is unlikely though so let’s assume the tops clubs in the Premier League and in international football will largely remain the same; let’s assume the status quo will be maintained.
As this article handily points out, of the 110 players who played at the 2014 Brazil World cup, 73 of them were contracted to the current top 6 of the Premier League.* So roughly 2/3 of Premier League players at the last World Cup played for the top 6 clubs. A cursory glance at the players selected suggests that, with the possible exceptions of Edin Dzeko, Joel Campbell and Antonio Valencia, that they are predominantly from the traditionally ‘major’ international nations [and as such are likely to appear at future international competitions]. What is also striking, if unsurprising, is the fact that the majority of the players from the top Premier League clubs who were selected were first team players.
This may seem like stating the obvious but recognising the trend of a large portion of first team players for the top 6 sides in England being from nations likely to appear at the Qatar World Cup is sort of integral to the point that I’m going to make.
So if the Premier League landscape in 2022 is comparable to the present one, the impact of a mid season World Cup could have some interesting consequences. With the preliminary schedule for this world cup placing it between the start of November and midway through December, it would take place approximately in the middle of the current Premier League season. If the trends of squad selection and the nations that qualify for this World Cup continue into the future, one important thing will become very apparent:
In the 22/23 season, the top 6 club’s squads are going to have serious concerns with fitness.
Based on the previous competition, the average number of players from these teams playing at the World Cup was 12, which represents half of the 25-man squad that each club is permitted to register for the season. The implications of this are obvious: these teams are going to be left halfway through the season with half of their squad depleted with fatigue.
As well as additional number of matches to be played, there are also the factors of increased travels to contend with. Especially if a number of these players play for nations that progress to the latter stages of the tournament, there is a very strong possibility that the top 6 of the Premier League have a to deal with a number of jaded players to deal with come January 2023. Playing half a season with half of squad with tired legs and minds is obviously going to have a negative effect on form. It would only take one or two of these teams to have a bit of an implosion for there to be a real shake up.
The clubs that are on the fringes of the top four, such as Southampton this season, would have a great opportunity to break the current stranglehold on the Champions League places. Not only would their players have avoided the additional games and travelling of playing in the World Cup[in temperatures still likely to be around 30C], but they would have had a month’s rest in the middle of the season. This could prove significant as it gives them an opportunity to deal with any niggling injuries and a chance to tactically prepare for the remainder of the season as a collective, rather than having to work with half a squad for six weeks. Furthermore, smaller clubs would be less penalised for players picking up mid-to-long term injuries as they would not have to play fixtures in that time period, so there would be a reduction in games missed for these injuries.
For the biggest teams, missing out on a season of Champions League football isn’t the end of the world as Manchester United and Liverpool have proven in recent seasons. However, a season of Champions League football could potentially make all the difference for a smaller side. The increased broadcasting money, gate receipts and stature within the world game that come with European qualification all have the potential to be a catalyst for a club breaking through. The extra financial backing and being able to offer top level football could allow a breakthrough team to build on their qualification and cement their place at the top table. Of course, the success of this improved financial capacity is dependent on the wise investment of funds so it only presents an opportunity rather than a certainty.
But there is a chance that the door to the top four could be left ajar. There is a chance that someone could get their foot in the door. Hopefully, if these clubs are given an inch, they can take a mile.
*Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur