Gareth Southgate has warned that “the allure” of the World Cup could be lost by staging the tournament every two years and says the football calendar needs “fewer matches of better quality”, rather than more competitions.
However, Southgate insisted he is “open minded” about FIFA’s proposal to scrap the current four-year World Cup cycle and cited the unexpected success of cricket’s The Hundred.
The England manager revealed he has met with Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s chief of global football development and the driving force behind the plans, to discuss the proposals and said they needed “a lot more thought”.
The 211 national football federations and associations that make up FIFA’s congress would need to vote on the plans, while Wenger is also pushing for all qualifying matches for international tournaments to be played in one block in October.
“I actually met with Arsene a couple of weeks ago – he was meeting a few different coaches – so I have a pretty good idea of the proposals,” Southgate said ahead of England’s World Cup qualifier in Poland on Wednesday.
“I think the whole calendar needs reviewing. My feedback would be I know our generation are going to find a World Cup every two years quite a strange concept.
“But I also know that things like The Hundred in cricket have been an incredible success, so I’m open minded about some of those things.
“But the calendar generally needs to be tidied up. We can’t just add more in. I agree generally with the concept of better quality matches, fewer matches [of] better quality across the board, but there’s lots of other things that need consideration. We can’t just add more in at the moment.
“We keep adding more competitions in and I’m intrigued to see what comes out to allow that space to happen because we can’t keep adding onto the workload of the players.”
Pushed on whether he was for or against a World Cup every two years, Southgate was diplomatic but added that there were elements of the proposals “that wouldn’t work”.
He added: “It was interesting to hear the proposals and I was able to feedback some of my thoughts.
“Without knowing how all that fits together because its too complex to say it was all positive or I didn’t agree with it all. There’s too many different strands, so there’s bits I thought could work, bits I think need more consideration and bits that probably wouldn’t work.
“I’m not hugely pro or massive negative about the concept. I think it needs a lot more thought. As a traditionalist, it feels you could lose some of the allure of the World Cup because the scarcity of it makes it more important.
“But I also get it that if you are a player who has an injury for the World Cup, you might only get one opportunity every eight years, and that is really tough. I am not certain on that side of it.”
Southgate has consistently argued that the calendar needs revising and warned against increasing the workload on players.
He said players’ unions, like FIFPRO and the PFA, should be given a leading say on FIFA’s proposals but acknowledged that more matches were a potential consequence of the rich financial rewards in the game.
“I think [the players] should be represented by players’ unions,” Southgate said. “You cannot go into individual players, that would take forever.
“The players’ unions could gather the thoughts of the players and I just think everybody has to work together on the calendar.
“We talked about this after Covid and you can’t keep adding. We have had some fixtures that have been so difficult, if you think back to last September when the players had not played a league game, then we were expected to play at a high level in international fixtures.
“We can’t keep adding in those things. But none of us in the game are holding our hands out for less money, so we also have to accept that comes with a consequence.
“There is a balance to all this but across the board governing bodies have to work for a calendar that works for the leagues and confederations and for FIFA. It has to be coordinated. If we are looking that far ahead, there is no reason it can’t be.”
(By Dan Kilpatrick, Evening Standard, 07.09.2021)