FIFA has certainly had a rough patch of late. Dodgy deals behind closed doors, confederation presidents handling suspiciously overstuffed briefcases, botched bribery attempts from the chronically awkward Brits (bless them), more expensive Swiss watches than even Salvador Dalí would know what to do with and a couple of incredibly misguided venue choices for the next two footballing extravaganzas. Could it get any worse?
The expansion of the 2026 World Cup into a 48-team format, ostensibly “based on sporting merit”, is a giant up yours to fans of good football all over the globe. Yes, more shitty teams from backwater boondocks will get their chance to shine (I happen to hail from one of them), but let’s face it – it’s far more likely they’ll get their arses and faces reddened on their way swiftly out of the competition and onto the next boat back to Tuvalu or Suriname or wherever the fuck.
The current 32-team set-up is filled with enough shite as it is. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a massive fan of the tournament and actually spent the entire 2014 edition traipsing all over Brazil in a perma-state of frenzied euphoria (either that, or just plain old inebriation). But the greatest sporting extravaganza on Earth is already beginning to creak under the weight of its own uber-commercialism. The last thing it needs is another raft of Tony Pulis-type outfits cluttering up the place with their long ball, backs-to-the-wall tactics and interminable 0-0 draws.
When Sepp Blatter, who went from a mildly offensive but ultimately harmless elderly relative to an international criminal mastermind disguised as Nelly in the space of a few short months, was booted unceremoniously out of the rotten cesspit of corruption he had so lovingly fostered, we all assumed things could only get better.
But wait, an incredibly expensive and environmentally disastrous jet plane brings Karl Pilkington’s continental, cultured but far less attractive cousin to the rescue. Gianni Infantino, who hails from a tiny town just a six-minute train ride from the Blatter’s birthplace (thanks Google Maps), definitely isn’t as driven by money or power or any of those other nasty, nasty things, and is handily placed to step into the breach, dust FIFA down and get the old girl back on her feet.
For the briefest of honeymoon periods, it seemed like the new man might actually be a sizeable upgrade on the old, with the Swiss Pilk making all the right sounds about “integrity” and “new starts”. But less than a year into his presidency, Infantino has shown his true colours and they’ve turned out to be a disappointing but entirely predictable shade of gold.
It’s supposed to be the best of the best; if we let 48 out of 211 footballing nations come to the picnic, what’s the point? Why don’t we just let everyone have their fun? In fact, why make it so exclusive? Let’s get Mars and Venus and all that lot involved as well! A kick-around with the apes! (Actually, a Cruyff turn from Curious George would be something to see.) The inaugural World Cup back in 1930 had a mere 13 teams and only 18 games. Slowly but surely, that amount has crept up to the 32 teams and 64 games we have today.
By my own blinkered and heavily partisan reasoning, that seems to be the perfect balance. Enough intrigue to hold your attention, enough games to justify taking a month off work but not so many that you end up vomiting on your shirt front from football overload. Like a multipack of Roast Beef Monster Munch, another 16 bags might seem like a good idea at the time but fairly soon after consumption you’re going to regret it. That’s the situation we find ourselves in now – the proposal has been joyously voted in by the minnows of the footballing world and all of us are going to have to stomach the ulcers it will inevitably engender.
Not that Infantino cares one solitary fuck about that. With a projected profit increase of £521 million, FIFA’s only got eyes for one thing. With the next incarnation of the Cup due to take place in a homophobic, war-mongering country and the one after that in the middle of the desert in the dead of summer, it’s safe to say that wherever 2026 is held, it’s almost definitely going to suck as well.
They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, but the sad reality is that Brazil 2014 is likely to be the last great World Cup we’ll ever witness. Goodbye, beautiful game, I’ll miss you. My liver won’t.