Serie A Prepares To Restart After Pandemic, But Not Without Concerns

We are living in dark times and on unfamiliar territory. With the current epidemic, COVID 19 has taken away the thing we love most, football. In doing so, it has stopped some really enticing title races throughout Europe from reaching their conclusions especially in Italy.  Before the shutdown, Juventus and Lazio were only separated by only one point having both played 26 times. Juventus haven’t really been the same as maybe previous seasons but the stardom of Paulo Dybala has made the difference for the league champions. Meanwhile against all the odds Lazio have found themselves in title race for the first time in decades.

Dybala has been in incredible form but will he and Juventus get to finish the season? (Image from Tumblr)

Dybala has been in incredible form but will he and Juventus get to finish the season? (Image from Tumblr)

Beyond that title race, the Champions League race is really tight with Inter Milan, Roma, Atalanta and to a degree Napoli fighting for the final two Champions League spots. This has been one of the best years of Italian football in recent memory. The coronavirus has put a stop to all that and we’ve have been waiting months for the league to resume and for the final places to be settled. Who will win the league? Will Lazio manage to dethrone Juventus after seven years on top? Or will the brilliance of Paulo Dybala be enough to earn yet another title for Juventus.  Or will Inter upset everything by clawing their way back into title contention?

We have been sitting on these hypothetical questions for the last two months while the coronavirus has hit hard throughout Europe as well as the United States and beyond. It has left fans waiting for the day matches can resume and we can feel ‘that’ feeling again. That day however appears to be coming it has been announced that Serie A is looking at June 13th as the date to reopen Italian football. It will follow the German Bundesliga which restarted earlier this month much to the delight of its fans. It certainly is the right move but that doesn’t necessarily mean it comes without risk. Even without fans there was going to be a risk that someone can still catch the virus. The risk is obviously something that the Federation needs to take seriously and appears to be. Clubs are obviously conflicted about the league restarting. This decision will benefit some teams and it will deeply upset others. However we must find a way for the league to return it has to come back eventually. If the league is not restarted then the alternative is that its cancelled and will be deemed a lost season. The safety of the players is incredibly important but canceling the league or suspending it until next season just doesn’t sound like a productive way of handling this situation and wont resolve the unknown questions that only come from the league being up and running. This is the tightest title race we’ve seen the last couple years  so throwing away the season will frustrate more than just the fans.

Preparations are being made to make it safe for the league to restart (Image from Tumblr)

Preparations are being made to make it safe for the league to restart (Image from Tumblr)

This year Lazio made a massive step forward after finishing 8th last season. They without doubt have been the biggest story of the season. They didn’t add all that much and still have drastically improved since last year. It’s hard to say what the future will hold for this team because this might be the only chance for Lazio to win the title in the next 20 years. Stripping them of that warranted chance would be a travesty regardless of how much Lazio winning would hurt me they deserve to see how the story ends this season; it would be would be cruel to the sport itself. Equally though the safety to the players has to be taking into consideration and made a priority. If there’s a way that the league can continue this season and conserve their safety they must find a way to make that happen; cancelling the season just isn’t an option.

The matches will probably have to be played without any fans for at least a year. Unfortunately the impact of the coronavirus is going to change sporting events for at least the next two seasons at the very minimum which will be sad because of the value that fans bring in football. They are why we play the game especially; during derbies it hard to fathom them without fans. We will eventually get to go to games again and see our teams score goals and win big matches but in this time we are living in that seems to be far from where we are now. The impact of this virus will take some of the passion and emotion from the game unfortunately but there’s no way around this. All the leagues need to prevent stuff like this happening again; safety has to be the number one priority. Which means for at least a year the Milan Derby, the Roman Derby, the Derby del Mole and others will have to play without fans in attendance setting a heartbreaking precedent. Sadly we’re just going to have to abide by these rules. One day football will be more or less back where it was a few months ago before all this stuff happened but that day unfortunately is not today.

Serie A will play its games with no fans in the stadium likely for the foreseeable future (image from Tumblr)

Serie A will play its games with no fans in the stadium likely for the foreseeable future (image from Tumblr)

The fall out of the virus long term is not only going to impact the fan support but it could impact the seasons of many teams in the league’s top flight.  Essentially when the year kicks off again it will be a fresh start or a new season. Teams like Inter Milan and Roma will greatly benefit from this because both teams have really struggled as of late. Inter seemed to bow out of the title race with a second loss to Juventus that has damaged their bid for a league title. Meanwhile Roma had won two in a row but prior to that lost three on the bounce. Neither have been experiencing their best moments of late. It will allow them to reset and chase down the Champions League spots. Juventus is a team I just feel will always figure it out and maybe in some way they’re going to benefit from the struggles the other teams may endure because of the virus. Juventus may not be the best team but they may end up winning the title despite that. Lazio and Atalanta will be the most affected. Before the break Lazio were unbeaten in their last 21 and Atalanta were in incredible form. They could suffer which will give an opportunity for Inter Milan to reset and find a way to fight back in the title race. The right decision is clearly opening the league up with safety precautions. If there is a way for them to play out the rest of the season they should exercise this option. If safety is at stake for the players and then they have no choice but to cancel it but as long as they can provide safety to the players the team and the league June 13th should go forward the open up the gates to Italian football.

Post by Eliot Ben-Ner, writer for the EverythingRoma blog.

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Conte Under Review – A Look at Conte’s 1st Season Back at Inter.

Inter before Conte was under the leadership of former Roma manager Luciano Spalletti who lead Inter to back to back fourth place finishes along with getting them back in the Champions League for the first time since the 2010 season. He was signed on contract until the 2020 season. But after him finishing in the same position two seasons in a row without improvement, his future with the club was uncertain. After the 2018-19 season ended, Inter decided to part ways with Spalletti and started the search for a new manager.

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Inter drew up a short list of potential candidates for the position that included Conte as well as others such as Zinedine Zidane and Maxi Allegri. After a few short weeks Inter finally choose their man for the future and the only person they thought could take the club to the next level, Antonio Conte. To be fair, Conte has had a very successful career with a variety of clubs so the decision made a lot of sense. His career really took off is when he debuted as manager for Juventus on May 11th 2011. He replaced then manager Luigi Delneri  and was given high expectations to succeed as he has a history of playing for the club as a midfielder and had winning things. In his In his first ten months he made a huge impact, helping them tie Fabio Capello unbeaten run of 28 matches with AC Milan during the 1991-92 season. In 2012, Conte lead them to a Coppa Italia final which was the first time since the 2004 season. In the same year he completed the the league double against Inter and he was awarded the Trofeo Maestrelli which is the highest honor given to the best managers in the league. Capping it all off, he lead them to their 28th league title, despite drawing a lot of their matches that season. 

In the following season he lead them to their next title in remarkable fashion, losing only once to Napoli in the Coppa Italia. Despite winning three back to back league titles, success in Europe eluded him at every turn. Juventus were eliminated from the Champions League but managed to reach the semi finals of the Europa League in the 2013-14 season. In July 2014 Conte thought it was best to part ways with the club despite winning three Panchina d’oros for best Serie A coach of the season. He would then manage the Italy national squad before signing as manager for English club Chelsea in 2016 on a three year contract. He started that season with authority perfecting a new 3-4-3 formation which starting in match week 7 lead to a 13 game unbeaten run, tying Arsenals record set back in 2002. That run came to an end against rivals Tottenham in early January. The remarkable unbeaten run resulted in Conte being named EPL manager of the month three months in a row, which at the time was a league record. In the 2016-17 season he lead them to a League title but lost out on the double to Arsenal a few weeks later in the FA Cup final. After the season he signed a two year contract extension which was to end sometime this year.

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The following season he was able to win the FA Cup beating Manchester United 1-0. But he finished the 2017-18 season in fifth place missing out on the Champions League resulting in the club making the decision to part ways with Conte as his performance with the club was slowly on the decline. Over the past year it was uncertain with what would happen to him as he has been out of work. With Spalletti’s future unclear they parted ways with him, laying to rest the rumours being circulated about a replacement being sought and signed Conte on May 31st 2019 on an unknown length contract.

Conte has several plans and ideas for the future for the club. First and foremost he is trying to make the locker room a drama free zone. This is why he is trying to sell Icardi after his loan with PSG (which maybe happening as Icardi has shown interest at staying in France). This is because Icardi and his wife tended to be the centre of a lot of drama not just with management but with other players as well. This created  an issue due to the friction between players and management which led to poor performance on the pitch. This is a thing Conte is trying to avoid since he wants the club to be at it’s best and players working well together would help the clubs image as well. Another plan of his for the club is to get Inter another Scudetto which they haven’t seen since the 2010 season. He said he is trying to accomplish this goal within the next three seasons which is very attainable. These are all reasonable expectations; he is known for achieving the goals he sets for himself and his team. He also is trying to get Inter a European title as well though despite struggling there in the past.

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Inter so far under his leadership have accomplished quite a few things. Firstly he has achieved his goal of having a drama free club. There hasn’t been any issues of incidents coming from the locker room. The players seem to be getting along well along with the players and management. Relationships and the team have never been stronger. Also no player has been charged with fines in regards to being late for training sessions. This is all down to Conte’s strict training regime. They workout daily and they practice various formations, agility and speed exercises etc. This helps kept them in shape preventing issues of stamina and weight gain. Also the 3-5-2 formation he has implemented has worked well despite having some draw backs. This formation as worked well against lower and mid table teams but against some of the stronger teams it falls flat where the extra defender in the back would come in handy such has a 4-3-3 formation. The problem with some of his tactics is he makes substitutions at the wrong times for example he brings off Argentine striker Lautaro Martinez after seventy minutes into the match when goals are imperative  or he brings a key player off for a player of weaker status. This in my opinion is why Inter have lost points and have seen them drop in the table. One thing to also note is that he is not bringing in fresh starters. He tends to play the same starters week after week which leads to fatigue and player exhausted and is one of the reasons I think they struggle in European competitions.

Overall Conte may not win the Scudetto in his first season out which was to be expected given the changes he needed to make. But to go from title contention to falling to third is a major disappointment. But the positive is they kept the battle for a good chunk of the first part of the campaign which is an accomplishment because during winter they went on to lose or draw seven plus matches in a row so to see the fight until the first few matches of the second half of the season is huge. If I were to give Conte a ranking out of five stars one being bad five being excellent, I would give him three and a half stars. He has made strides getting Inter in a positive area in way of keeping things civil in the locker room and keeping them in shape. But he still has work to do in way of tactics if he can adapt with formations and making smart substitutions Inter have a chance at winning a title in the near future. In conclusion Conte has a bright future with the club and who knows what his future will hold.

Post by Danielle Luhrsen, writer for The Galleria of Internazionale Milano.

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A Football Miseducation

Like most kids my age, I grew up wanting to play football. Every waking moment outside of school was spent thinking about it or indeed playing football either with my older brother or with friends at one of the various parks near to where we lived. The home phone ringing usually indicated the arranging of yet another game and would result in me hastily grabbing my gear and running to where it was to be played. I lived and breathed football. To say i was obsessed with football is an understatement and that obsession continues today although on a more tempered basis.

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From the age of seven until i was nineteen I played for a variety of sides including my school teams, boys brigade, college side and of course my local junior team, Largs Colts. Throughout those years i learned from a variety of coaches and managers, most of whom were volunteers, some with experience and some without. Those twelve years would be the start of my football education, an education that i thought was gospel. Little did i know that what they were teaching me was wrong.

I was usually deployed at full back or in midfield depending on the team i was appearing for and the strength of teammates around me. The positions may have altered but messages did not. Winning was the number one priority. Keeping a solid backline and getting the ball forward as quickly as possible was a close second. I will never criticize the coaches i had growing up but the messages i received at a young age were simply misguided. One of my coaches favourite phrases that he used week in, week out was “If in doubt, punt it out”. I spent the better part of four years thinking that defences must be a rigid line of four and that simply swinging a leg at the ball to get it out was good enough. I can still hear my coach screaming from the sidelines to push up as a backline but never to venture over the half way line. Full backs must simply not cross that line. This message more than any other confused me the most as i would watch games on television where the full back would advance beyond the half way line and indeed sometimes into the opponent box. How could they do this? Were they disobeying the managers orders?

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You shall not pass – the dreaded half way line that i was instructed not to cross (Image from stock images)

It’s only now as an adult that i can review my early football education with skepticism. Coaching is complex to be fair but at its core must be done right. It must serve as an education for players giving them the tools they need to be successful not just to win. Winning is not everything and in a world where we are gradually creation a generation who are devoid of losing, it should be welcomed as a normal part of life. Participation ribbons for everyone does not create winners, it creates problems long term. Football coaches must be teaching kids that there are many ways to play the game with the core basics forged in having fun and playing as a team. Individual brilliance can come later but not at the expense of the collective team.

If done correctly, coaching can unlock the potential in children and let them shine. Instead of screaming to get the ball up the field, talk to them and encourage them to get the ball down on the ground, under control and then look for the pass. Instead of insisting on just getting a head on it, tell them to look at how players like Virgil Van Dijk heads the ball – always with a purpose and towards a play. Educate them on formational options and the need to be able to adapt. Rigid should not be in the vocabulary. My re-education started as an adult as i watched and read more about football. If i could go back to when i was a kid and play the game with the knowledge i have now, i may have been a better player, i would definitely had a bit more fun and without doubt would have ignored my coach and ventured over that half way line.

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Why relegation may be the best thing for Newcastle this season

In the 1993 classic movie “Groundhog Day”, TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray finds himself in an never ending loop reliving the same day over and over. Frustration sets in early on for Connors as he struggles to understand why he is stuck repeating Groundhog Day no matter what he does. Eventually though he accepts his fate and spends each day repeating his steps in order to entertain himself and hopefully win over the heart of his producer Rita Hanson, played by 90’s favourite Andie MacDowell. Whilst the plot may seem fictitious to most, for Newcastle fans it has become their reality – reliving the same season over and over. Each and every season follows the same vicious circle – at the beginning the fans are filled with hope that this will be the season when things turn around for their club, that new players will arrive to improve the squad and Newcastle will become the team that many expected them to become. But that hope soon disappears as signings fail to arrive. What follows is a painful season as the squad limps through picking up just enough points to survive. At the end the season, the cycle starts all over again condemning the Newcastle faithful to their own footballing version of Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day for Newcastle fans? (image from Groundhog Day official poster)

It has been ten long years for those fans since Mike Ashley walked into their club and fundamentally changed the philosophy and approach of Newcastle from a footballing sleeping giant to a frugally driven business. Like Murray’s adventures in Punxsutawney, there have been more than a few false dawns along the way but all have ended the same way; in bitter disappointment. Whether it be Graham Carr’s French transfer revolution, Alan Pardew’s European adventure or most recently Rafa’s revival, the club has always fallen backwards rather than moving on to better things. Ashley decided a long time ago that Newcastle wasn’t going to be his hobby but instead another profit making machine within his business empire. Success on the field was sacrificed for larger numbers in the balance books. And it worked with Newcastle becoming the 17th most profitable club in the world bolstering Ashley’s reported £2.5b fortune along the way. Ashley has said publicly that despite his multi-billionaire status that the club must now be self sufficient having put £250m of his own money into the club over the past ten years but the math doesn’t stack up. in the time he has been in charge, Newcastle has raked in huge sums of money from gate receipts, merchandise, lucrative broadcast rights and player sales yet consistently spent little on bringing players in. This season manager Rafa Benitez has had to rely on loan signings, free transfers and self funded transfers (selling players to buy players) to bolster his already fragile squad. Added into this, he had to contend with the club trying to shortchange his existing squad in the run up to the start of the new season when they failed to agree a bonus structure forcing the players to take their own actions by refusing to comply with media requests. For the fans it’s a never ending cycle that shows no sign of resolving anytime soon.

For the love of Money – Mike Ashley (Image from Tumblr)

 

Hope however may be on the horizon in the form of Amanda Staveley. The British businesswoman with her Middle East connections launched an audacious bid to buy Newcastle late last year and for a while looked like she was going to be successful. With Ashley keen to sell, Staveley matched the asking price set by the Sports Direct boss (rumoured to be £320m) only for Ashley to up his price to £400m in what can only be described as a last ditch effort to get more money. It backfired with Staveley walking away from the negotiations, leaving Ashley holding the over priced baby. Staveley is still rumoured to be interested but won’t overpay for the club knowing that additional funds will be needed to vastly improve the first team as well as completely overhaul the youth development structure at the club which has failed to bring through anyone of note since Paul Dummett.

Could Staveley be tempted to buy Newcastle even if they are relegated? (Image from Tumblr)

So here is why relegation may be the best thing that can happen to Newcastle this season. It’s well understood that Ashley is becoming bored of Newcastle and would sell for the right price. It’s also understood that Ashley wants to avoid another relegation as the value of the club would drop significantly, likely to half of his current valuation. That would result in him having to make one of two choices – stick it out for another season and fund the squad rebuilding needed to get out of an increasingly difficult Championship or sell for less than the original £320m he had asked for. Given that he paid £135m to acquire Newcastle ten years ago and has likely taken enough cash out of the club since then to cover that plus his other investments, selling the club for £200m would still be a smart business move. Staveley would likely re-enter the picture (as could other potential buyers) given she sees the long term value in the club and has a desire to awaken the sleeping giant on numerous fronts. Relegation would result in several players leaving and perhaps the manager too if he has stuck around by that point. But they could be enticed back by new owners with a desire to invest that matches their long term vision for the club.

Newcastle fans make their feelings clear (image from Tumblr)

In “Groundhog Day”, Murray is caught in his endless time loop for an undetermined period. But according to director Harold Ramis, Connors is stuck for ten years before he finds redemption and escapes the loop. Its been ten years since Ashley took over at newcastle so perhaps this is an omen. With Staveley still keen on buying Newcastle and Ashley growing tired of a business that has giving him endless headaches despite being profitable, Newcastle’s escape may be on the cards. Relegation may be the trigger needed for Ashley to finally part with the club and end the fans own Groundhog Day.

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Who will win the Champions League this season?

This week marks the start of the semi finals of  the Champions League. Four teams remain – Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Monaco with the two Spanish sides facing off in one tie and Italian champions Juventus taking on a Falcao inspired Monaco side in the other. But which two teams will reach the final and lift the coveted trophy at the National Stadium of Wales in Cardiff on June 3rd.  Will Real Madrid win their 12th European Cup/Champions League trophy? Or will neighbours Atletico be able to finally lift the trophy at the third attempt? Can Juventus put the bad memories of two years ago aside when they lost to Barcelona and get their hands on the cup or will Monaco lift it for the first time in their history having suffered defeat at the hands of Jose Mourinho’s Porto back in 2004?

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 Three Things That Can Help Sunderland Bounce Back

Cut adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, relegation was always inevitable for Sunderland. The fans had already accepted it before kick off against Bournemouth on Saturday having watched a goal shy Middlesbrough side beat them 1-0 midweek. In the end a late goal by Bournemouth’s Josh King coupled with Hull’s draw with Southampton sealed their fate. Life in the Championship beckons for The Black Cats but it is not the end. Yes its a major setback and the loss of TV revenues is a huge hit. But Sunderland like arch rivals Newcastle who suffered relegation last year can bounce back. The Championship has become the Premier League’s graveyard and has proven difficult for teams who have failed to adapt to bounce back (Leeds, Blackburn, Queens Park Rangers etc). To avoid this happening to Sunderland , change is needed at the Stadium of Light and hopefully everyone connected to the club knows this. However sometimes knowing what to change can be the hardest part so with that here are three things we think are needed for Sunderland to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Trust in Moyes

Sunderland fans are divided on whether or not David Moyes should be retained as manager but for the club to have the best chance of bouncing back up, Moyes must stay. The former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad boss was not been able to turn around Sunderland fortunes this season since taking over from Sam Allardyce last summer but to be fair to the Scot it has not been all his fault. The lack of interest by the clubs owner and main source of funding Ellis Short has hindered the much needed overhaul of a Sunderland squad that has been dangling preciously close to the edge for some time now. Moyes did manage to bring in 13 new players, some on permanent contracts and some on loan deals but at the same time saw 16 players leave. This amount of turn over is usual when a new manager takes charge but usually when 13 new players arrive, the squad starts to resemble the managers vision.

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Januzaj was one of several players to arrive. The Belgian signed on loan from Manchester United for the season (Image from Tumblr)

However this is not the case with Sunderland as Moyes had two frustrating windows, both battling the club for enough money to achieve his plans but also fighting against the clubs image as a regular Premier League relegation candidate. In recent weeks, Moyes frustration has shown by his public stating after several defeats that he couldn’t fault his players who gave everything. Whilst that may sound like a strange thing to say, it was Moyes way of saying that the players he has just simply aren’t good enough for this level. Moyes is not a bad manager as proven at Everton and has tasted life in the Championship before with Preston (albeit several decades ago and under different circumstances) so should be the right man to guide Sunderland back into the Premier League.  He will need to be backed though both by the fans and the board and allowed to transform the team for life in England’s second tier, much like Rafa Benitez did at Newcastle this season.

Trust in Youth

Sunderland’s drop into the Championship will likely result in a massive clear out with a majority of the more well known names like Defoe, Borini and Kirchhoff departing. There will be other forced sales like the exciting Jordan Pickford who has burst onto the scene this year in goal and has been a revelation despite difficult times at the club. His stock has risen so much that it will be impossible for Sunderland to hold onto him but the net bonus of that is that he should move for a considerable fee. Other players will be freed from their contracts or sold and spaces made available for new recruits but for Sunderland to have long term success they should turn to their youth players for new blood.

Its unlikely Sunderland will be able to hold on to Pickford when they drop into the Championship (Image from Tumblr)

Its unlikely Sunderland will be able to hold on to Pickford when they drop into the Championship (Image from Tumblr)

Like Pickford, the club has produced from its academy several new faces who could play big roles next season. Josh Robson, Michael Ledger, George Honeymoon, Lynden Gooch and Ethan Robson are all exciting home grown players that will surely have the fans on their feet on a regular basis if given the chance. The Championship is a tough league to test out new youngsters but it can also be the perfect place to do so at the same time. Building a squad that is a mix of experienced pros and youthful exuberance could be the key to success for Sunderland and its promotional push next year.

invest, Invest, Invest

A lack of consistent investment has ultimately lead to Sunderland’s current predicament. Owner Ellis Short has made no qualms about his desire to sell the club this year and appears to have lost all interest. Whilst no one has been able to match the bid price set by Short, the owner appears unwilling to add additional funds into the club at this time beyond what he deems as necessary. As an illustration of this, Sunderland’s net spend this season was only £15m (£39m spent, £24m received) which is hardly considerable considering the amounts being splashed not only by clubs in the top 6 but also clubs in and about the relegation zone (Middlesbrough – £39m, Crystal Palace – £50m, Burnley -£44m, Leicester – £26m, West Ham – £42m). With the exception of Middlesbrough who look to be accompanying Sunderland into the Championship next season, the rest have added well to their squads and have applied little pressure on the manager to balance the books.

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To be fair to Short, in the time that he has owned the club (coming on 8 years now) he has given over large amounts for transfers (£163m over last five years) but the money has not been spent wisely and as a result Sunderland have stuttered along. They have danced around relegation for the last five years only once finishing mid table – a respectable 14th in 2013-2104 but it appears lady luck has run out just as Short’s patience has run out too. A new owner needs to be found quickly and one willing to invest not only in the first team but in building a sustainable management structure as well, similar to the one found at Southampton. Only then will Sunderland be on a better footing for the years ahead.

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An Expanded World Cup? Sign Me Up!

After the expansion of the 2016 European Championships, the World Cup is now set for a revamp. The FIFA Council has unanimously decided on a 48-team World Cup from 2026. The increased World Cup would see 16 groups of three teams with the top two teams in each group would progress to the knockout rounds.

Ordinarily I would be cynically calling this a money making exercise. More teams would mean more games, more fans and greater broadcasting revenues. Adding 12 more teams is rumoured to generate an extra £823m in revenue, which sounds a lot like FIFA chasing more cash. But the football fan in me can’t wait. 48 teams, 80 matches, a tournament 25% longer. An expanded tournament creates optimism in qualifying; everyone thinks they have a chance.

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The format of the World Cup was last changed in 1998 to expand it 32 teams. France won the trophy that year (Image from Tumblr)

During qualification for Euro 2016, Albania, Iceland, Slovakia and Wales all made it to their first European Championships whilst Northern Ireland won Group F. Everyone thinks this is a devious plot by FIFA, but, in truth, the Word Cup has always invited more and more countries to play. Originally 16 teams competed which rose to 24 in 1982 and then 32 in 1998. One of the great fears of an expanded tournament is the addition of so-called weaker teams. Currently 11 of the top 30 nations in the FIFA World rankings did not qualify for the last World Cup in Brazil. There is quality waiting in the wings. So the idea of Moldova or San Marino rocking up at a major tournament would be very, very unlikely.

The elitist mentality of football fans is quite odd. We all loved watching Leicester winning the Premier League or Wales take the Euros by storm but now we are turning our noses up at smaller sides. In early June 2004, England played Iceland in preparation for the European Championships a few weeks later. England won 6-1. Twelve years later Iceland would knock England out of the Euros to complete their remarkable journey. There are up and coming sides out there, like Iceland, who are desperate to join the party. We need to stop being snobs and let the new guys have a chance. Football fans are quick to hate the idea but do not see the amazing benefits. 16 more games, roughly 800,000 more fans, a longer tournament for us all to enjoy. Sign me up.

Post by Tough Tackler – @thetoughtackler (www.toughtackler.co.uk)

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