Nations League in June, World Cup in winter: Football must be purged

Nations League in June, World Cup in winter: Football must be purged

Football needs a purge. But not those that the League of Nations has served us with a ladle since the beginning of June, including those offered by the England team, semi-finalist of the World Cup in 2018 and finalist of the Euro 2020, must be the most complete example.

In other circumstances, the record of the Three Lions at the end of this prolonged passage in front of the buffet prepared by UEFA for guzzling the ball should have earned Gareth Southgate a hurricane of criticism as violent as the arch of Wembley would have trembled. The usual geeks vomited their bile on Twitter, but they also did after Italy beat England on penalties last July. So we won’t pay more attention to them than usual.

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Too many matches for too much indifference

Elsewhere, on closer inspection, beyond a few flashy headlines, there was almost total indifference. The journalists who had covered the humiliation suffered at Molineux split a few well-felt words to describe this slap, but we felt that the heart was not quite there.

Take it Times and the Guardian the day after the volley of the beating passed by Hungary in Wolverhampton. Both dailies had a lot of sport on the front page. But not football, relegated to the back of their editions, like the other days when nothing but normal happens in the microcosm of the ball. No, cricket, which was somewhat understandable in view of the rather extraordinary performance of the English batsmen against New Zealand, who had snatched an anthology victory against the current Test-match world champions. A little – but not more: England had just been beaten 4-0 at home, in an official competition, by a team which is in fortieth place in the FIFA world rankings (thirty-five places behind the English, therefore).

Gareth Southgate and Mason Mount, heads bowed, after England’s disappointment against Hungary (0-4) – 06/14/2022

Credit: Imago

Moreover, this Hungary, even if it has progressed – a little – since Marco Rossi took charge of it in 2018, has little to do with the Magical Magyars of Puskas, Hidegkuti, Czibor and Kocsis who inflicted on the Three Lions a famous 6-3 defeat which destroyed for good the myth that England were invincible on their soil, in 1953. They are not worth the attractive team either mid-1960s, the one led by the wonderful 1967 Ballon d’Or, Florian Albert.

In fact, she had missed her qualification for the 2022 World Cup by losing twice against Albania, and after being scared against Andorra (1-2) in Budapest. These are the terrors that have beaten England twice in the space of ten days, by a combined score of 5-0.

However, despite some boos heard at Molineux, despite matches against Italy and Germany (1-1 and 0-0) which were not the most convincing either, despite two points out of a possible twelve in the Nations League ( and the most real danger of relegation to ‘League B’ of the Nations League for the next edition of the tournament), Gareth Southgate will continue to enjoy the support of the majority of fans and the English media.

The fans, too, are tired

It’s not just the players who are tired, exhausted, freewheeling. They are also the fans. The journalists. TV presenters forced to feign enthusiasm when talking about a tournament that no one cares about. We all have only one desire: that this cook who fills our plates as soon as they are finished and prevents us from digesting returns to his stove, and that he serves us a lighter cuisine the next time.

The majority of supporters and media in England (and many other countries) know well that the object of their anger, rather than a coach who is out of ideas because out of players in physical and mental condition would be acceptable, must be those who have found a way to stall four competitive matches in the space of ten days at the end of a grueling season.

UEFA? Yes and no. Because UEFA didn’t really have any other window of opportunity to squeeze in its matches, unless it was drawing a line under a competition whose first edition, in 2018-19, had been a resounding success, and to which it intends invite CONMEBOL nations in the near future; and if it had no other window of opportunity, it is because, for the first time in its history, the World Cup will not take place in June and July, but in November and December.

It is indeed difficult to play football – or to watch it from the stands – when the average temperature is 37 degrees in the shade, with regular peaks of over 40 and even over 50, as is the case in summer in Doha.

FIFA’s specifications were however very clear. The candidate countries for the organization of the 2022 World Cup had been told black and white by FIFA that the tournament would be played in June and July. They had prepared their cases accordingly, including Qatar, which claimed that its use of revolutionary air-conditioning systems would enable it to stage matches in conditions bearable for athletes, officials and fans – in June and July, do we hear.

Gianni Infantino carries the World Cup trophy

Credit: Imago

However. As the FIFA assessors themselves wrote in their assessment of the five 2022 World Cup bids (besides Qatar, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the USA), even assuming that these revolutionary air conditioning systems (which we had not yet properly tested) work, it would still be too hot. And it was thus, after the fact, in defiance of its own specifications, making fun of what the Japanese, Koreans, Australians and Americans might think who had been fooled in this way, that FIFA decided to exploding a bomb in the international calendar, instructs others to sweep away the debris.

It’s only a beginning…

FIFPro, the Leagues, the Confederations, the clubs, the supporters all made known their opposition to moving the World Cup to winter. But what FIFA wants, FIFA gets. And so here we are in June 2022, wondering how we could force exhausted players to exhaust themselves a little more by participating in a competition that no one wanted at this time of year.

Raphaël Varane, injured during France – Denmark

Credit: Getty Images

And that’s just the beginning. Let’s not forget that if the World Cup starts on November 21, it is a week earlier that the selected players will have to join their national team. In the case of England, this means that the Premier League will have to find a way to squeeze in the seven days lost because of the World Cup, planted there in the calendar like a monstrous cactus in the middle of the lawn. The FA Cup and Champions League finals will therefore be played in June.

Let’s stop there. Let’s stop before talking about the biannual World Cup advocated by Gianni Infantino, Arsène Wenger and this FIFA colony that CAF has become; or adding matches to the Champions League schedule; or the dream of a Superleague – in Europe and elsewhere – which continues to appeal to far too many big clubs to ignore.

In 21st century football, it seems, too much is not too much. Too much is never enough.

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