Blatter backs winter World Cup

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The Independent Football

A line in the sand may be about to be drawn by the powers of the European club game; appropriately enough it will be over the decision to stage the World Cup in the desert.

When Sepp Blatter yesterday added his significant voice to the prospect of a winter staging of the 2022 World Cup tournament, controversially awarded to Qatar earlier this month, he launched what could be a definitive struggle for power in the global game.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi, where Fifa is staging the Club World Cup (significantly in December), the Fifa president said: "I definitely support the idea to play in winter here [in the Middle East], when the climate is appropriate. I'm thinking not only about the fans but the actors, the footballers. They provide the spectacle. It is very important to protect the footballers.

"It's a question of the international calendar, but it's 11 and a half years away. This can be done. Where there's a will there's a way."

The summer heat in Qatar can reach 50C. When bidding for the tournament, Qatar said all stadiums would be air-conditioned to overcome this problem, though the technology is untested on this scale. Increasingly it seems the plan was merely offered up to secure the bid.

Blatter's comments came a day after Jérôme Valcke, Fifa's general secretary, said: "Why not [stage it in winter]? It means you open the World Cup to countries where they can never play it in June and July because it's never the right period of time."

Valcke added: "It means you have to change completely when the leagues will play, mainly in Europe."

That is the problem. For the moment the major European leagues are keeping their counsel. Privately, they are deeply concerned. Preliminary assessment at the Premier League suggests three domestic seasons would be affected by such a change. Including the mandatory preparation period, a World Cup takes 10 weeks. Players involved would then need a period to recuperate, not just physically, but mentally. However, a three- or four-month winter break could not be managed across a single season as it would mean two seasons effectively running into one another either side of the World Cup. The situation is exacerbated by the prospect of the Confederations Cup, which has become a rehearsal for the World Cup and involves the reigning European and South American national champions, being played the previous winter. In England added complications, for broadcasters and fans, would be the clash with Wimbledon tennis, and cricket.

The proposal brought a mixed response from Premier League managers, though none supported the idea of playing in the heat. Wolves manager Mick McCarthy, who played for and managed the Republic of Ireland at World Cups, said: "I think it's stupid. Taking the World Cup around the globe is one thing, taking it to a place that's 50 degrees in the summer is nonsense. Then saying 'We'll all shut our leagues and play in the winter' is even more nonsense."

Carlo Ancelotti who, like McCarthy, played in the 1994 World Cup, said: "If you ask me as a player, it's better to play in January. It's impossible to play 50 degrees. I had that experience in the USA. As a manager it will not be easy to manage the team if there is a break in January for the World Cup."

Harry Redknapp said: "You can book the cheapest holiday in the world if you want to go to Dubai in June or July. It's a quarter of the price of the rest of the year. People don't go there, you can't stand the heat. How are you going to run around playing football?"

Avram Grant, West Ham's Israeli manager, said he supported the idea of a World Cup in Qatar because "it's good for the Middle East," but added, "for Qatar it looks a good idea but you have to reshuffle all the international calendar."

And the inimitable Ian Holloway said: "It's gone crazy. We'll just change everything because their weather is really hot. What happens to our football and everybody else's that would be playing through it? Do we just stop for a while? Genius.

"I'm going to go home and tell my turkeys, 'It's all right, you've got some respite. I've had a word with Fifa and we're going to move Christmas."

Beyond the jokes, though, a showdown is brewing. The World Cup bankrolls Fifa; without it the organisation would be a shell. But the stars, who attract spectators, viewers – and thus sponsors – are almost all employed by European league clubs, many of whom are already unhappy with the depredations of international football.

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