European clubs look set on a collision course with Fifa over radical plans to move the 2022 World Cup to the winter in order to avoid the searing summer heat of Qatar.
Fifa sources have confirmed that no fewer than three regular seasons would have to be overhauled to accommodate a switch, with as many as nine free weeks needed to cover the period before and after the tournament as well as the actual matches themselves.
Although there are more than 11 years to go, Fifa say that any move must be agreed by 2015. There are fears of widespread disruption to fixture schedules and commercial deals.
Even if the Premier League copied most of Europe and applied a winter break, it would not be nearly long enough. Three seasons – before, during and after the World Cup – would have start far earlier than usual and finish deep into the summer. "You would have to stop playing all the leagues by November," said one high-ranking Fifa source last night. "And you would have to start the new structure one season before the World Cup in order for it to be applied to 2021-22. I don't see how you could suddenly change."
Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, revealed on Friday that his executive committee members had begun to discuss a winter World Cup even before last month's World Cup vote. Premier League sources are said to be seriously concerned at the prospect of dividing the season into two parts, and other leagues across Europe seem bound to be equally concerned. One alternative being mentioned is to start the European season in March and run it through to November.
Crucially, no mention of a switch was made in Qatar's original bid, which promised to use revolutionary cooling techniques for a June-July tournament, when temperatures in the emirate can reach 50C. Although Blatter will have stepped down by 2022, he is almost certain to run Fifa for another four years after this summer.
Last week, Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, the president of the Jordan Football Association, caused a major upset by ousting Asia's long-standing Fifa vice- president, Chung Mong-Joon of South Korea. This is one of the most powerful positions in world football and significantly Prince Ali, a son of the late King Hussein and at 35 by far the youngest Fifa powerbroker, is a staunch ally of Blatter, who now seems increasingly likely to stand unopposed on 1 June for an unprecedented fourth term.
The Independent on Sunday has learned that Prince Ali is keen for Premier League clubs, and possibly even the England team, to visit Asia as part of a long-term programme to develop football in the region.
"This is one of the issues I want to tackle," he said. "It would be a great encouragement for countries in Asia to be able to see their heroes. England is like a second home to me."