By Tony Attwood
There seems to me to be a growing feeling of confidence in Fifa that they have weathered the storm. There haven’t been more arrests for a while, and the legal claim against the organisation on behalf of migrant workers employed in dangerous and degrading conditions in Qatar, highlighted recently on Untold, didn’t get much coverage elsewhere, and now because of that seems to be considered by Fifa to be a minor affair.
Thus Infantino appears to feel he has come out of the era of allegations against Fifa unscathed and so has started to push ahead with his expansionist agenda as part of a policy to detract further from Fifa’s past behaviour, and specifically the way it awarded the next two world cups. England, one of the countries where there is criticism of Fifa is hampered by the ineffectiveness of the FA at sorting out its own affairs, and the willingness of those in the FA to kowtow to Fifa’s every whim and demand in the vague hope of getting more gravy train events in England. It is, after all, us English taxpayers who fund the bills, courtesy of Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP. Karen Bradley was appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Tracey Crouch the minister for sport, tourism and heritage.
The new Fifa year will start with the Africa Cup of Nations which means that some clubs will lose players – although this year the number is down, suggesting that PL clubs are perhaps slightly less enthusiastic about top players from Africa, knowing that they may lose them for a month mid-season. This concern was heightened when the competition was held three times in four years (2012, 2013 and 2015), rather than every other year (which itself was seen as problematic enough by some clubs).
As a result of the move away from African players in the Premier League, for 2017’s competition Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea will each have no players lost to the competition. For some other PL clubs the estimated numbers are…
One player: Man U (Bailey), Liverpool (Mane), Arsenal (Elneny)
Four players: Everton (Kone, Gueye, Bolasie, Niasse), West Ham (Kouyate, Sakho, Feghouli Ayew).
Five players: Leicester (Amartey, Schlupp, Mahrez, Slimani, Benalouane)
I say estimated numbers because we won’t know to the new year, but it is good to see that this time around Arsenal’s disruption will be reduced. Let’s hope Elneny comes back enhanced by the experience, rather than damaged.
More amusing is the state of West Ham who were recently reported to have sent (in the words of the Telegraph) “begging letters” to a number of clubs trying to get players on loan. The Africa Cup of Nations is part of the reason for their distress. Arrogance and incompetence also probably play a part.
After the Africa Cup, Fifa will be turning its attention to what it calls “A clean-up of the transfer system” – a programme seemingly invented to take attention away from the Russia and Qatar world cups, until they are almost upon us.
The allegation is that some clubs hoard players and then put them out on loan so that their rivals cannot nurture them for the future.
Infantino said, “Whether it’s true or not, the perception often is that there is something strange happening with these transfers. It is important if you move a few billion dollars in one or two months, you must make sure that every happens in a clean way.” This is taken as an indication that he might also do more to regulate agents.
Fifa of course is responsible for regulating transfers that involve clubs from different countries, and in 2015 Fifpro, the worldwide players’ union complained to the EC that the transfer system broke European competition law because only a small number of clubs can afford to bring in the top players. Which brings us back to Chelsea who by their own admission having 37 players on loan.
Infantino stated that, “It doesn’t feel right, for a club to just hoard the best young players and then to park them left and right, it’s not good for the development of the player, it’s not good for the club itself. I fully share that view, we have to work on squad size limits.”
Such a ruling, if it did include restricting the number of players that could be loaned out at any one time, would have a major impact on the tactics of Chelsea, Manchester City, Milan, Internazionale, Juventus and Atalanta. It might also impact on other areas such as transfers in general – in an attempt to head off the EC ruling.
There is also a plan by Infantino to throw countries out of the world cup finals in Russia if fans “misbehave”. The example of misbehaviour is that which happened at the Euros this year. That could be quite a difficult thing to do, however, if it is Russian fans who misbehave.
His statement was, “We take this very seriously. It is a concern, and we will certainly not hesitate to take measures, strict measures, including excluding teams from a competition if it turns out that teams need to be excluded.”
Next up on the agenda will be the idea of expanding the World Cup to 48 countries instead of 32, which Infantino has made a major project of his own. He has described this as a case of holding a round of playoff matches before the tournament proper, in order to “create more excitement for fans, broadcasters and sponsors.”
The aim is probably also to divert criticism away from the decision to hold the next world cups in Russia and Qatar. The impact would be more players leaving clubs immediately the season ends to play more international matches. It could even have players being called on before the season ends.
An alternative plan involves having 16 three-team groups to make up the 48 countries. That again could extend the world cup so that players who get through to the latter stages may not be available to play for their clubs at the start of the new season.
In this scenario all qualifying countries would start out in 16 groups of three teams. The top two teams then go through to a new round of 32, with the bottom-placed team being knocked out after two matches. The argument is that the finalists would still play a total of seven games, as is the case now, but more countries would be involved.
The problem with this is that only having three games in each group raises the possibility of teams being tied for a position on points, goals scored or goal difference. Penalty shoot outs could be used, although it might be more fun if a panel of judges sent countries out on the basis of whether they liked the country’s shirt design or not. After all, why shouldn’t designer flair be part of the World Cup. Everything else is.
Infantino’s reign in Fifa ends in 2019, and he will undoubtedly want to stay on the gravy train for as long as Blatter did, and one way of achieving this is by giving more countries a chance to play in a World Cup final group match, and so getting more votes towards his re-election. He’s unlikely to back down on this one.
Nowhere in this agenda for 2017 is there any more talk of cleaning up the corruption of Fifa. It is almost as if none of the events of the last couple of years have existed, and with the mass media certain to be bowing down to Fifa’s every whim and desire in the build up to the Russian WC, it looks as if, for the moment at least, Fifa will continue to get away with it.
However the trials of those members of Fifa who have been arrested will edge slowly forwards, and we might just hope for the resultant fall-out may once again make some people ask, “do we really need international football?”
Of course we can’t rely on the mass media to ask such questions, unless there is another round of arrests in Switzerland. Those Fifa top dogs who have not been arrested clearly think they are safe, but there is enough going on for action against them suddenly to rise up once more.
And from the History Society
- The founding of the referees association, and the ref who had his own team
- August / September 1936: 20 different players used in the first seven league games
- Ralph Birkett: part of the South West club that Chapman built within Arsenal
- Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36 the fundamental problem with the team