W ith the FIFA World Cup well and truly over, it’s time for football fans to focus their attention on their club team and look forward to another season of hope and expectation. With the exception of the French, of course, who are no doubt still glowing with pride following their national team’s triumph in Russia. As for the other thirty-one unsuccessful nations, they must by now have tired of analyzing (their team’s performance), criticizing (their manager’s selections) and fantasizing (about what could have been). After all, there’s always Qatar. Or is there?
The 2022 tournament is already the subject of much debate. There has been talk of bribery and corruption ever since the state was announced as the host back in December 2010. And just when they thought they’d put those allegations well and truly to bed, further accusations followed. Last month, Qatar was accused of undermining rival bids; claims which, if proved, could cost the desert state dearly.
However, at the time of writing, Qatar can still look forward to being the first ever Arab country to host the World Cup. Assuming the rumours are proven to be just that, the biggest concern surrounding the 2022 tournament is the climate. The World Cup is traditionally held in June and July when European teams are free from club commitments. But with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, it’s far from ideal for either players or fans. Temperature controlled stadia could perhaps have provided the answer. However, FIFA have now announced that the tournament will be held from November 21st to December 18th instead of the usual summer dates. With temperatures closer to 30 degrees C, the decision has been applauded by many. But how will this impact those clubs in the middle of their competitive season? FIFA have yet to provide a satisfactory answer to this widely asked question leaving fans to speculate the consequences of a winter tournament.
Would it be correct to assume that those clubs with players away on international duty must simply play without them? Hardly fair when you consider what’s at stake in the modern game. And would this discourage players from wanting to play for their country? If the chances of winning the league title with their club were higher than winning the World Cup with their country, would they sacrifice the opportunity to play in Qatar? A dilemma indeed.
As for the fans, those travelling to Qatar will expect to see the world’s best players in action. After all, that’s what the World Cup is all about. Imagine their disappointment if key members of their national team were absent having decided not to travel. On the other side of the coin, those fans paying to watch their club team in the Premier League or La Liga, would expect to see its star players giving their all to secure another three points.
The alternative is to kick-off the 2022/23 Premier League campaign (and others) in July instead of August, thus allowing for a month long break for the World Cup. It’s widely believed that matches would then resume on December 26th, retaining the traditional Christmas and New Year fixtures – an obvious money spinner for the clubs involved. The apparent down side to this, from the point of view of the players at least, is the shorter summer break between the end of one season and the start of the next. Somehow, I doubt many people will sympathise with the players on this particular issue. After all, their mega salaries must more than compensate for any forced holiday curtailment. Perhaps this attitude will change when fatigue kicks in early season and valuable points are lost.
Opinions on the subject vary. There are those who insist the World Cup should be a summer tournament and that it should remain so regardless of where it is being played. Others believe it’s right to hold it in winter but to leave the European club fixtures unaltered; and some feel a break in the club fixtures is a small price to pay for a successful Middle East tournament. Of course, there are also those who don’t actually care one way or the other; we’re not all football fans, after all.
Regardless of your opinion, it’s fair to say it all comes down to money. You only have to look at players’ transfer fees and salaries to realise how much money is involved in today’s game. Christiano Ronaldo’s recent transfer deal from Real Madrid to Juventus, for example, was worth a whopping €100million, rewarding him with a salary of €625,000 per week. Similarly, Neymar is reported to be earning €670,000 per week at PSG. Can any player really justify that kind of salary? Again, opinions differ. There’s no denying that top level football is a short career so it’s understandable that players should want to earn as much as they can, while they can. That said, footballers these days are not just sportsmen (and women), they’re also celebrities. As a result, they can command high financial rewards for product endorsements. Who doesn’t remember David Beckham’s Armani underwear ad? Many players also go on to earn substantial salaries as commentators or pundits. Thierry Henry was rumoured to be pocketing €4.5million a year for doing just that. Not bad work if you can get it. And what about the players who go on to become managers? Thanks to water-tight contracts, even those who are unsuccessful take home eye-watering amounts of money (Gary Neville’s brief period at Valencia springs to mind). It must be the only job in the world where you get paid a fortune for under-performing.
Which brings me back to the World Cup. Historically, it was considered an honour to play for your country and financial reward was not expected. However, players nowadays receive significant win bonuses when playing for their national team. It’s interesting to note then that French striker, Oliver Giroud, failed to get one single shot on target throughout the 2018 tournament. He must be extremely indebted to his team mates! Talking of which, teenage superstar Kylian Mbappe chose to donate his entire earnings from the World Cup to charity. The sum (thought to be in the region of €470,000) will provide free sports education to sick and disabled children. What a fine example to set to other players. It’s hard to believe – on and off the pitch – that he’s only nineteen years old.
Of course, in the absence of major injury, Mbappe (and other elite players) can be assured of a financially secure future. Thanks to the money ploughed into the sport from broadcast revenues (home and abroad), sponsorship deals and other commercial activities, clubs these days have plenty of money to satisfy even the most demanding of players. And that’s before they’ve even sold a ticket! So is it fair to charge the fans so much for a ticket? Football is supposed to be a family sport yet ticket prices are forcing more and more fans away from the game (along with the constant play-acting of certain players). Coupled with the cost of official merchandise (a shirt will set you back in excess of €56) it’s no longer a sport for the working class.
Yet there seems no end to this financial escalation. Transfer fees and player salaries continue to rise. Where will it all end? Surely there must come a time when the amount of money involved in player (and manager) contracts reaches a plateau. Whether it happens in our lifetime or not, remains to be seen. After all, many believe that the best players in the world deserve their sky-high salaries. They’re of the opinion that without ‘performers’ such as Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar, gate receipts will fall. So too will profits from club shirts and other official merchandise (Juventus sold €51m worth of CR7 shirts just 24 hours after signing the Portuguese star). Not forgetting that the payments made to clubs at the end of the season differ greatly depending on where in the league they finish. Those precious Champions League positions are also vitally important when it comes to club revenue. So if a club wants to guarantee a place in the Champions League, it must attract, and invest in, the best players. Thanks to the World Cup, those clubs were able to identify the next generation of superstars to help them do just that. Because like it or not, Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi won’t be around forever. It’s the likes of Kieren Tripper (England), N’Golo Kanté (France) and Diego Laxalt (Uruguay) that will be turning heads in Qatar. These names (and others) may be unfamiliar now, but these are the players likely to be demanding jaw-dropping salaries in the future and encouraging fans to make the trip to Qatar.
So how will Qatar cope with the influx of visitors in 2022? Undoubtedly, the state will benefit from the massive amount of money pumped into its economy, assuming it has the infrastructure to cope with the deluge. It certainly has a hard act to follow. Russia exceeded all expectations as hosts of the FIFA 2018 World Cup displaying not just impeccable organisation skills but also a certain level of tolerance towards visitors. With viewing figures across the entire tournament estimated at half the world’s adult population, it was vital that Russia projected the appropriate image. Qatar must now focus on doing the same. Thanks to the ongoing rumour mill, it certainly has its work cut out.< Back