This week’s football furore comes via the man in charge of swelling FIFA’s coffers, Gianni Infantino.
His plan to expand the World Cup by an extra 16 teams just so happens to also expand the governing authority’s tournament profits by some £500 million. But it’s about the football, not the money, of course.
For all the opposition to it and the unrelenting and eventually tedious of jokes about the size of the 2026 World Cup sticker album, I have to say I’m not against it at all.
For someone who gets “The Fear” once the final matches of the group stages begin, the prospect of 16 extra games which includes an extra knockout stage soothes my anxious mind.
I never want major tournaments to end. As soon as it gets to the last 16 I’m steeling myself to fight back the tears as Gary Lineker bids us farewell and leads us into an emotional montage reminding us of the bitter disappointment we were.
Before we instinctively oppose change though, we should remind ourselves the way we have done it in the past, hasn’t always been for the better either.
After last year’s expanded Euro’s, people complained how unfair it was that Portugal made it to the semi-final of Euro 2016 without winning a game in normal time but is that any more unfair as England just missing out on a place in the last four of Spain ’82 without losing a game? As did Cameroon that year, it should be said.
The two group stage structure that year hardly geared us up for excitement in the tournament that gave us the “Disgrace of Gijon”.
Cup football should be all about the knockout stages and the expansion to a last 32 of knockout games gives the World Cup more of a cup completion edge, like the European Cup before Champions League group stages were introduced.
And what of the charges against the new format that it will dilute the quality of the competition? Well for one, football has changed.
There isn’t a Transworld Sport mystique about nations who aren’t historically strong footballing nations. Unknown quantities aren’t, well, that unknown.
I can just about remember that World Cup in 1982. I still have the little hardback book somewhere that I filled in all the results with my dad.
Most memorably El Salvador’s 10-1 defeat to Hungary always stuck out in my mind as I pencilled it in and then looking on a map to see where it was in the world along with Kuwait, New Zealand and Honduras.
Football has spread it’s blanket to reach much farther and it’s important that we give nations outside of Europe and South America a place on the World Cup finals stage.
We criticise the US for their “World Series” but without previous expansions, the World Cup would basically be Europe v South America.
Accusations of other nations diluting the quality of the competition are a bit rich coming from a team eliminated by exactly the kind of side we are looking down our noses at. If anyone has diluted the competition it’s been England. “Dilution” is probably to kind a word for us to be honest.
We haven’t so much diluted it, it’s more of a case of us contaminating the competition, like someone with an uncontrollable case of diarrhoea who couldn’t make it out of the swimming pool in time.
There’s actually a good case to include more countries like Iceland who go into tournaments without fear and a total belief in their tactics rather than teams who are weighed down or paralysed by expectation.
The racket that FIFA once was, and possibly still is, makes a concrete case for their actions being purely financially motivated and without doubt Infantino has honoured the promises he made to get in the position he holds. All very House of Cards. In truth though, we, the British, have nothing to fear. The only thing it might change for England is that the length of our tournament might be reduced to just two games instead of three.
Even with the number of European places going from 13 to 16, Scotland will still find a way of staying at home every four years.
No doubt Gareth McAuley will still be leading Northern Ireland out at 46 to swim against the tide after being put in a group with Germany and two other second tier nations.
And Wales will be still be riding high on the back of the Gareth Bale era as he now dictates play as a Ruud Gullet style libero from the centre of defence.
There isn’t such a thing as an unknown quantity anymore. We know the best players Africa has to offer.
It’s only a matter of time before Chinese league football is a common sight on our TV screens.
And if Tahiti do qualify from the Oceania section I look forward to see how then England manager, Paul Heckinbottom, deals with the threat of their 6’ 6”, 18 stone striker, Tanui Tinirau.
I think we actually might have a chance against them.