‘Tis the season for FIFA to start mucking about with the World Cup again, this time alerting us to the fact that the federations of the world are all in favour of the absurd notion of a World Cup with 48 teams, featuring 16 groups of three.
By Dave Bowler
Ignoring for a moment the idea that at least this might give Scotland a vague chance of qualifying – in fact, it probably won’t as most of the extra places will go to continents beyond Europe – can we not learn from the bloated spectacle of this summer’s Euros, expanded unnecessarily and without adding a scintilla of extra excitement through a largely turgid group phase that got rid of just eight sides to give us a last 16 that would pretty much have qualified in the normal run of things anyway.
FIFA’s top man Gianni Infantino is making the same mistake as UEFA – mistaking quantity for quality. Of course, he doesn’t see it as a mistake for he has a different agenda to the rest of us. We want to see a World Cup worthy of the name where he is simply playing the political game of trying to ensure perpetual re-election courtesy of the votes he can accumulate from smaller associations hoping to get their day in the sun.
In some senses, trying to open things up for smaller countries is laudable and you could argue that it only helps further strengthen our game across the world. But the World Cup is supposed to be the pinnacle of it all, the showcase of all that is best about the game. Dead games, monumentally mismatched sides and an even longer, more fatuously bloated tournament does nobody any good.
Second Tier World Cup?
A better answer might be a supplementary, second tier World Cup, a kind of Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, played as a curtain raiser to the main event. That would still mean that developing nations get to play against some of the more established nations who haven’t qualified for the competition proper, getting their own showpiece final and plenty of world exposure, giving FIFA the opportunity to get the extra TV time it wants, without cluttering up its primary competition.
Alternatively, why not allow that second tier of competitors to fight it out for the last eight places? Have 24 teams qualifying for the competition in the normal way, then have another competition involving 24 or even 32 teams in eight groups of three or four, the winner of each group qualifying for the main competition. That gives FIFA yet more football to promote but without diluting the World Cup itself.
At 32 places, the World Cup has reached saturation point. Adding any more teams to it will do nothing but harm to the integrity of the competition. More than that, given we are nine years away from it being able to come into being, we might well be dealing with a very different broadcasting landscape where an endless supply of meaningless football might not chime with the viewing eyeballs of the world – we’ve already seen that start to bite in the UK market with the proliferation of too much football that means nothing to most of them, people turning off in droves.
A 48 team World Cup is an invention we don’t need and which can only be bad for the game. We need to stop it in its tracks before the politicians of the game get their own way once again.