We were once naive and closed our eyes to much of Fifa’s corruption, but now our eyes are wide open and we can’t close them again.
When you run a football website, or a newspaper, or are a broadcaster, the two-week international breaks are a bleak time. With no new domestic football to discuss, the tumbleweed soon blows through the newly vacated desert. Those two weeks interrupt the flow and rhythm of the league season and we resent that more than anything else.
One of football’s great joys is that it provides a skeleton to hang your life on and sometimes even provides much of the flesh too. The tides of every season wash in and wash out, game after game, anchoring us. Without structure of some sort, life is chaos and I certainly cling to the game like a life raft in a turbulent sea.
But those international breaks are harsh and jagged and are resented by many. Indeed, the very nature of international football has, slowly but surely, been deposed as the peak of the game by the Champions League.
This would have been impossible for football fans to imagine in the past. It was a universal truth that it was ‘a step-up’ to play international football and that held at least until the last 20 years but does it anymore? When most of the top clubs in England would beat the England national team, we simply can’t say that international football is a step up. Quite the reverse.
Incidentally, I’ve often wondered why there is no club v country tournament. Who wouldn’t want to watch, say, France playing Manchester City, Germany against Spurs?
While there is obviously an appetite to see England play – the crowd sizes and TV audience numbers prove that – and an even bigger appetite to see them do well, there is a clear erosion in belief in the worth of men’s international football outside of tournaments and perhaps, for the first time, in tournaments too.
The flags at England games suggest much of their support is drawn from the lower-league market towns such as Rochdale, Matlock, Blyth and Barrow. For those fans it’s a chance to see some really good players, rather than their more typical weekly fare of triers and brutalists. But if you support one of the very rich clubs, you are definitely trading down if you go to see England.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it matters. International football is the last place that money can’t buy success and that’s got to be worth something. But perhaps that is an old-fashioned, out-dated and minority view. So many are only interested in the big money, the big fees, the big wages, the big numbers and the big teams, like never before. To them it must seem odd that teams of players all born in the same country are competing against each other. Why would you restrict yourself in that way? What is to be gained by doing so? It may seem a very out-moded notion indeed.
And as soon as internationals become contentious in themselves, all the international tournaments will also lose status and importance. Given The Evil World Cup coming up is morally abhorred across the globe, it is impossible to say that the World Cup brand has not been badly tainted. Blood is very hard to wash out. I doubt many of us have much enthusiasm for this iteration of the tournament. The thought of the thousands that died and were exploited to make it happen ensures that.
Add to that the widespread open disgust at Fifa (who are set to make $4.6 billion from the World Cup) and its reprehensible boss Gianni Infantino, and it isn’t hard to imagine that we might have seen the best days of the World Cup. Things change, usually slowly, then quickly. We’re at the slowly stage.
We were once naive and closed our eyes to much of Fifa’s corruption, but now our eyes are wide open and we can’t close them again. This appalling organisation needs to be replaced with a transparent, democratically elected, not-for-profit body which is governed and policed by an independent organisation. If such a body was created, the pressure for all FAs to align themselves would be immense. Why would any want to stick with the discredited Fifa other than for bribes and favours?
Belief in the worth of any competition is an existential thing. It is not innate. It is like money. The £20 note in your pocket is only worth £20 if everyone believes it is. If people see it as a worthless piece of paper, then that is what it becomes.
We have to question why we should continue to believe in a tournament run by an organisation that has been proven to be so corrupt for so long? That has set itself up as some almighty power entirely without consent from the people it lords over: us. An organisation that is a self-regulating football dictatorship which knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. A junta which dictates what logos and messages you can and can’t have on a shirt, dictates how big or small they should be. Even dictates what bottle of pop is on a desk in a press conference and where it should be placed. Because everything is for sale to the highest bidder and their ‘preferred partners’ must be fellated for cash at all times.
And now here we are in Qatar. International football is already under threat from the wealth of the Champions League and the Premier League. Fifa have sold the world a devil’s bargain and are just hoping we will just ‘stick to the football.’
They are praying that once the football starts, it will act as a kind of mental bleach and that national tribalism will cleanse and wipe away all the negativity, the same way it does for fans of clubs with morally abhorrent owners. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Maybe we’ve had enough of small men making themselves feel big on the back of the people’s game.
Maybe we’ve had enough of international football tournaments, or maybe we’ve just had enough of Fifa.
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