The lack of attention given to the Club World Cup has long frustrated Fifa President Gianni Infantino.
His addiction to expansion – and more importantly, the money that comes with it – continues to dominate the argument for his decision-making, regardless of the impact it has on football’s most talented exponents.
There are few tournaments left at FIFA that have not been drawn into his master plan to revolutionize football and the Club World Cup has been on his list for some time.
So, following Real Madrid’s success in Morocco on Saturday, here are all the plans he’s made for the tournament over the past decade.
First expansion idea
Infantino had just gotten his feet under the FIFA desk when he revealed his plans to alter his two World Cups – club and country.
In 2016, the same year he took over from Sepp Blatter, he expressed a desire to expand the team pool at both tournaments. A Club World Cup with 32 teams and a World Cup with 48 teams were the goals.
The FIFA President told Mundo Deportivo in Spain: “Today football is not just about Europe and South America, the world has changed and that is why we need to make the Club World Cup more interesting for teams and also for fans around the world .”
At first, Infantino’s message seemed sincere. That was until he mentioned sponsorship.
He added: “That’s what we’re trying to achieve by creating a tournament that’s much more attractive, with more quality among the participants and more clubs. This will attract more sponsors and TV companies from all over the world.”
This was the first time he outlined his reform intentions. Although he was shot down by the European Club Association (ECA) immediately after the change was proposed – which would have come into effect in 2019.
Their statement said: “The number of matches played throughout the year has already reached unacceptable levels, particularly for national team players,” read an ECA statement.
Infantino’s solution to tackling backlogs and player welfare issues was for domestic leagues to reduce their attendance. He cited La Liga as an example – he believed the 20-team league should be reduced to 18.
Plans to replace the Confederations Cup
Initial expansion plans fell silent after European clubs distanced themselves from the proposal. A year later, however, a new concept was brought to the table.
This time a tournament with 24 teams was proposed. Infantino felt that the Club World Cup was underperforming and therefore floated the idea of replacing FIFA’s least relevant international competition, the Confederations Cup.
This version of the Club World Cup would have included 12 European teams (UEFA): the eight finalists of the last four versions of the Champions League and the other four with the best coefficient.
Five South American clubs (CONMEBOL), two each from Africa (CAF), Asia (AFC) and North America (CONCACAF) and a final team from Oceania (OFC) would be involved.
Speaking after a FIFA Council meeting in October 2017, Infantino said: “The current Club World Cup is a nice competition, but it hasn’t really had the hoped-for impact on the development of club football around the world.
“We have to see if we can come up with something special, something new that will help club football and confederations around the world. When FIFA organizes a competition, it should be something special, so we either find a special tournament or we don’t do it.
“An option could be to organize it instead of the Confederations Cup.”
The new club tournament was due to come into force in June 2021, a clear summer on the FIFA calendar. The 2017 Confederations Cup was the last of its kind.
Germany were winners in Russia a year before the 2018 World Cup, but four years later there is still no improved or expanded Club World Cup.
As FIFA prepared to roll out its new Club World Cup concept in summer 2021, it planned to continue the original format for both 2020 and 2021.
However, those plans soon caught fire as the COVID-19 pandemic forced football into a regression.
Domestic league seasons were postponed, ending several months later than planned in most cases.
In March 2020, with the pandemic still in its infancy, FIFA announced that the extended version of the Club World Cup would be postponed to later in 2021, 2022 or 2023.
The major international tournaments planned for 2020 – notably Euro 2020 and Copa America – have been postponed to 12 months later.
That forced them into the slot earmarked for the redesigned Club World Cup, which ultimately forced FIFA. Their flagship club competition was sacrificed.
Instead of launching the proposed summer tournament, FIFA reverted to the same final-year tournament, and tournament expansion plans were canceled entirely.
The 2020 iteration – held in Qatar for the second consecutive year – was postponed in early February of the following year, and the same ultimately happened with the 2021 version.
The Football Association of Japan announced that it was unable to host the December 2021 competition due to rising COVID-19 infections and the absence of fans from stadiums.
A bidding war erupted as countries realized the opportunity for belated alignment was back on the table. The United Arab Emirates were selected amid competition from Brazil, Egypt, Qatar (again), Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Expansion plans after the World Cup
No sooner had Argentina and France confirmed their places in the World Cup Final than Infantino moved on to his next project.
In his final address to the media before Lionel Messi made his mark in football history, the FIFA President revived previously drafted plans to expand the Club World Cup.
Explained: How Infantino could be FIFA boss and host a 32-team Club World Cup by 2031
“We had agreed a few years ago to host a new 24-team Men’s (club) World Cup, which should have been held in 2021,” Infantino said.
“This event has been postponed due to COVID, so the new Men’s Club World Cup will take place in 2025 and will feature 32 teams – the best teams in the world.
“Obviously the details, location, etc. still need to be discussed, agreed and decided, but the team of 32 will go ahead and do it like a World Cup.”
With discussions of player exhaustion and game schedule congestion stronger than ever, his proposal was not well received.
FIFPRO, the International Federation of Professional Footballers, claimed that the plans “could have serious consequences for the well-being and employment of players and increase the pressure on them”.
The World Leagues Forum also criticized Infantino’s master plan, adding that the plans were “unilaterally announced without consultation, let alone consent, with those directly affected: the leagues, their member clubs, the players and fans”.
The success or failure of the revamped Club World Cup will depend heavily on the commitment of European sides. Last year’s World Cup in Qatar – also a 32-team tournament – featured 13 UEFA nations, so a similar number of European clubs would be expected for the club version.
Without them, it will be impossible for Infantino to stage the world-class tournament he envisions.
But when he’s nothing else, he’s determined to make things work (and likes to spend big in the process).
If the Club World Cup is to be seen as a lucrative proposition by Europe’s elite, they should be well rewarded for their dedication.
Given the revenue such a tournament would generate, these teams could potentially write their own checks, but the problem of exhaustion and an unprecedented workload that would jeopardize the quality of the tournament remains.
Until football is able to lose a few games somewhere, it’s hard to imagine new formats being agreed, particularly ones that affect the most overworked players.
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(Top Photo: Simon Holmes/Getty Images)
https://theathletic.com/4106435/2023/02/12/club-world-cup-infantino-changes-future/ The FIFA Club World Cup: all the changes proposed by Infantino and what the future holds