Arguably Australia’s greatest Socceroo hit the headlines last week, with his controversial support for what would be the most dramatic change ever made to the FIFA World Cup.
Tim Cahill and another 17 ex-players are unanimous in their support for the tournament to be held every two years and not the historical four.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now at the helm of the governing body’s global development arm, presented the proposal at a summit in Doha last Thursday.
It was attended by Cahill and other international football legends such as former Danish and Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Brazilian Ronaldo.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Wenger have spent months shaping the narrative around the proposed changes and the support of the men they gathered in Doha appears to have been paramount to their efforts; men whose credentials in the game would mount a compelling case for whatever cause they supported.
Sadly for FIFA, in its efforts to double broadcast income and no doubt reap other associated benefits from a host of revenue streams, the majority of the football world appears to think that the proposal stinks.
The English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 have been unified in their distaste for the concept, as have a host of other leagues in Europe and UEFA have powerfully expressed the same view.
At the core of the argument presented by FIFA is a radical change to the structure of the international calendar, where the frequency of FIFA windows is decreased, with the intention to lessen the impact on club football.
International play would therefore occur across two lengthy windows, where somewhere near a full month of play would see teams decide their fates when it came to the upcoming World Cup.
Frankly, it is as dopey a concept as I have heard and one that I am surprised ex-players like Cahill were so easily duped into supporting.
Like an Olympics, the FIFA World Cup works because we wait so long for it to take place. The tournament relies on anticipation, a thirst for gut-wrenching qualification campaigns and the utter mystery that surrounds each tournament, when the form of certain teams is often so inaccurately overstated and/or widely under-estimated.
Australian football fans understand the enormity of the event more than most, with painful failures and hysterical successes having helped develop a mature appreciation of it and what it means to countries on the fringes of qualification each and every four-year cycle.
Of all people, Tim Cahill should know that.
A biennial event could well see repeat champions on a far too regular basis, other countries shut out for extended periods and a cheapening of the World Cup brand that could cause long-term damage, with FIFA all the while cashing in quite nicely as the money pours in every two years.
Of course, we all know that greed is the fundamental reasoning behind the proposal, one for which Wenger will take easily as many hits as he did while at the helm of Arsenal. However, most disturbing is the rather illogical and misleading thoughts of affirmation offered by Cahill.
In short, Cahill thinks it is a terrific idea. Yet if anyone has found themselves nodding along with him, they may wish to have a closer look at what he actually said.
“I think for the players it’s something that’s more efficient, something that works for them,” as he referenced the less frequent windows that he believes would result in decreased physical strain on the players.
Fair enough I suppose, yet a cynic may well cite the added efficiency in FIFA’s cash flow as being a far more likely motivator behind the decision.
“I’m really, really forward-thinking when it comes to player development, to reinvestment of the money going into 133 countries never qualifying for a World Cup, the opportunity to make them more competitive with the investment and, on top of that, 150 countries that need investment to stay alive as federations.”
If I am reading the above correctly, Cahill appears convinced that FIFA’s plan for biennial World Cup play is rooted in developing players and reinvesting the subsequent extra revenue into those nations who rarely or never actually feature in the tournament.
Thus creating a perfect and more just football world, where the distribution of wealth is more equitable.
Excuse me while I have a chuckle.
I tend to align far closer to Liverpool manger Jurgen Klopp’s blunt assessment of the situation – “it’s all about money” – as well as his view that player welfare is actually forgotten in the plan, with many players potentially playing a major tournament every single year.
FIFA are guiding Wenger’s research and opinion gathering to ensure eventual implementation of a second cash cow to world football’s four-year cycle. Sadly, it has also roped in legends like Cahill to add weight to the move, despite the flaky arguments they are using.
Off the back of the failed European Super League that was torpedoed by fans, the governing body hardly waited for the blood to dry on the carcass before proposing a World Cup change that could potentially do even more long-term damage to the game.
Public opinion is well against them and let’s hope powerful enough to nip a very silly idea in the bud.