Monday’s soccer news starts with FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s “Shape a better football” message for the federations. In part, Infantino pointed to the obvious steps necessary for the game to return to normal. Resume the schedule, eventually allow fans in the stadiums. He was careful to highlight the different situations for leagues trying to return to play.
“Football is already underway or about to restart in several countries,” Infantino said. “This brings us, and all the football fans across the globe, some hope for the future. However, we also have to understand and respect different decisions, especially from those among us who still need more time to be sure that a restart can be done in a way that is safe for everyone. Tolerance and understanding are important, especially these days. I support – FIFA supports – every one of you. There isn’t one right answer to all the situations. Each country is different with different contexts and no one better than you knows the best way to deal with this enormous challenge.”
Infantino made it clear that he means the game from the highest level down through the amateur setups when he is talking about football. He also spoke about eventually addressing the international breaks, currently on hold. “On another very important topic, namely the international match calendar, I am happy to report that we also made some good progress,” he said. “In consultation with different stakeholders, we are closer to present a balanced solution that takes into account everyone’s challenges and needs.”
Perhaps most importantly, Infantino also asked questions. “How should we deal with the increased number of matches played by top players? How many matches can a player play in a season? How should our competitions be organised in the future, at FIFA level, at national level…? And how can we better harmonise the calendar and the competitions between continents as football is becoming more and more global?”
His first point is addressing fixture congestion, with international commitments for top-level players along with their marquee status for the summer touring season piling on the games. This is not a new issue. Without substantive changes, concepts like a Champions revamp and FIFA’s own revamped Club World Cup will only add to the problem. That’s if the calendar stays the same. Reorganizing competitions would address that. So would revamping the international schedule. Seeing this as a series of questions eventually answered through the same fix is hardly a reach. FIFA could impose an international calendar that doesn’t allow the space for two domestic cup competitions. Or ancillary tournaments of questionable value imposed on clubs and countries by confederations. Or severely limit the window for those lucrative summer club tours.
Whatever short-term fixes come into play to address the problems created by the pandemic, it’s also an opportunity. FIFA and its stakeholders could use this to work through problems that continue to build through replication. That thinking sees space on the calendar as an asset to capitalize rather than breaks for players. Addressing that now might not help the finances of some clubs, but it would help the careers of players and the overall health of the game.
ESPN’s Mark Ogden looks at a potential mini-tournament format to finish off this season’s Champions League. BBC Scotland’s Tom English has a proposed Scottish league revamp that would add Old Firm reserve teams in the lowest division. Inside World Football’s David Owen works through the potential financial losses facing Premier League clubs due to the pandemic.
The Canadian Press’s Neil Davidson with the Canadian Premier League following MLS’s lead and planning to use a neutral site. Yahoo Sports’ Doug MCIntyre reports that US Soccer is reconsidering its anthem policy.
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