from Charles Bohm – WASHINGTON, DC (Sept. 16, 2021) U.S. Soccer Player – The mere sight of Arsene Wenger can send powerful images to people around the world, even those who don’t support Arsenal.

For those who paid the slightest attention to the sport during its long heyday in the London club, the professor-French was the epitome of evolution and innovation in what is by far the most popular league in the world. He modernized and globalized philosophy, tactics, recruiting, and even nutrition to create one of the most memorable dominant clubs in modern history. These Gunners helped set the stage for 21st century football as we know it.

Today Wenger has made himself an avatar for another brave new world. His current project is not a team, but an idea and a controversial one. As “Chief of Global Football Development” at FIFA, he is the contact person for the umbrella association’s ongoing “feasibility study” to organize the World Cup every two instead of four years.

This rather revolutionary proposal is the headline item in a series of concepts to reform the international football calendar released this month. In May, FIFA members voted by a clear majority of 166-22 to consider a proposal from Saudi Arabia. The seemingly far-reaching, theoretical exercise quickly turned into a public relations push with dozens of current and former top players and other personalities. Wenger has expressed the wish to move forward by the end of the year. The current structure is part of the FIFA law. The next congress, which is currently scheduled for spring 2022, appears to be the earliest possible time for action.

Not only that the world’s most popular sporting event would take place twice as often. Its qualification mechanisms would be compressed into fewer and longer international windows than the current norm of five per calendar year. Wenger apparently prefers a plan with only two month-long windows per year, one in the Northern Hemisphere summer for showcase events and a second in October for qualifications. An alternative framework offers three, and another in March, to distribute the compulsory national team. According to its supporters, the plan would halve the travel of the players between the club and the country.

Regional events like the European Championships, the Copa America and presumably the Concacaf Gold Cup would take place in odd years. Every major summer tournament would be followed by a compulsory player rest period of 25 days. Newer or smaller competitions like the Nations League seem to have been canceled, possibly also the revised FIFA Summer Club World Cup. Overall, the schedule would allocate 80% of the time and concentration of the players to the club ball and 20% to the activities of the national teams, which at first glance seems reasonable to FIFA.

It is meant to give us more of the most popular games, tournaments, and settings. Less of the meaningless or uncompetitive matchups. Less wear and tear on the body and mind of the player. Notably, it would effectively usher in three times as many World Cup slots as were available in the US in 1994.

“I am 100% convinced that it is the right solution,” says Wenger, whose area of ​​activity should be so broad that it even includes the carbon footprint of sport. “If you don’t play big competitions in football, you will play small competitions – don’t think we won’t play. Since this proposal respects the current 80/20 ratio between Cluba and international football, I would sign with both hands if I were in a club. “

The clubs themselves are not that enthusiastic, starting with the traditional power base in Europe. UEFA argues not only about the idea of ​​FIFA, but also about how the world football association promotes it. Europe’s clubs, unions and fan groups seem to agree. This confederation could go so far as to lead a boycott of its member states, including many of the world’s elite.

This week, players’ union FIFPRO called Wenger’s plan in a statement “inadequate if there are no solutions to existing problems,” adding that “without the consent of the players who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, such reforms will not be necessary Have an effect “. Legitimacy. The current debate follows again a flawed process and approach. “

Nevertheless, FIFA President Gianni Infantino seems to be convinced of the broad support in the base of Asia, Africa and America. Many of these associations feel stuck on the periphery of the sport without losing their love for wealthy Europeans. Perhaps they like the idea of ​​a more accessible World Cup and the portion of the proceeds that FIFA would supposedly distribute towards them.

Unsurprisingly, money is at the fore. The Athletic’s Matt Slater reports that FIFA is currently making approximately $ 5.5 billion per World Cup cycle, most of it in the year of the tournament with deficits in the other three. Meanwhile, thanks to its flagships in the Champions League and the European Championship, UEFA has almost tripled in the same period. It’s not difficult to guess how that might change under Wenger’s vision.

So the “exploration” of FIFA suddenly looks more like an advocacy group or perhaps a freight train rolling downhill. A few days ago Wenger and Infantino gathered a host of legends, including Roberto Carlos, Jared Borgetti and USMNT icon Alexi Lalas, for a luxurious meeting in Qatar to inform them about the advantages of the Biennale idea. Several seemed convinced almost immediately.

“The current World Cup calendar was designed almost 100 years ago and the world has changed completely since then,” Brazilian grandmaster Ronaldo told FIFA.com. “I believe that the moment has come for us to develop with them, with the new generations, the fast-moving information – that is very important for us.”

In an interview with Pablo Maurer from The Athletic, Lalas said, “I made it very, very clear, I was one of the first to say that I came with an open mind, that I wanted to see the data, I wanted” to to see why Arsene Wenger and FIFA believe this is the way to go. I also made it very, very clear that I had to get opposing points of view. “

While the world was far less interconnected in the tournament’s first decades, there are few precedents for other sports to adapt their own centerpiece events in response. Baseball, basketball, cricket, rugby and the Olympic Games have generally adopted four-year rhythms for their international championships, in many cases directly inspired by FIFA. A biennial would probably also mean a setback for women’s football as it pushes its way further into the mainstream.

A strong mix of self-interest and distrust among the bickering factions of football complicates this matter. The nuances of the problem make it even more difficult to get to grips with. Wenger and Infantino are helped by the widespread realization that the patchwork quilt of windows, drafts, and club-country splits isn’t working particularly well right now. That has gotten closer to the breaking point amid the compressed schedules caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can we have a constructive dialogue on this problem without asking for a rash adoption of these drastic and far-reaching changes? As a sanctioning body and interested party in this case, FIFA and its leadership do not inspire much confidence. Who knows? Perhaps Wenger has one or two more irresistible innovations up its sleeve.

Charles Boehm is a Washington, DC-based writer and editor of The Soccer Wire. Contact him at: cboehm@thesoccerwire.com. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/cboehm.

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