Football is bouncing back from a difficult period

1/9/2022 10:59:00 AM

But there is growing resentment towards some club-owners, and the World Cup will not be the only source of angst in 2022

Looking forward to the World Cup in 2022? Football appears to be returning to normality—but there could still be plenty of discontent ahead

But there is growing resentment towards some club-owners, and the World Cup will not be the only source of angst in 2022

NDER NORMALcircumstances, the World Cup is the most important event in the football calendar. In 2022, however, the tournament will be overshadowed, to some extent, by football’s recovery from its greatest peace-time crisis.Football has always acted as the great distractor; a pastime that lets people cast aside routine for at least 90 minutes. The loss of it in 2020 hit hard, as games were cancelled completely and then allowed only in empty stadiums. The return of spectators is symbolic of a shift to something approaching normality. But there could still be plenty of discontent.

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U NDER NORMAL circumstances, the World Cup is the most important event in the football calendar.England fans will be policed by some of the most feared riot cops on the planet at this year’s World Cup.Next week NATO foreign ministers, senior U.Next week NATO foreign ministers, senior U.

In 2022, however, the tournament will be overshadowed, to some extent, by football’s recovery from its greatest peace-time crisis. Football has always acted as the great distractor; a pastime that lets people cast aside routine for at least 90 minutes. They will be used to tackle hooligans and misbehaving fans. The loss of it in 2020 hit hard, as games were cancelled completely and then allowed only in empty stadiums. While the U. The return of spectators is symbolic of a shift to something approaching normality. They are already understood to be in training for the event after the Qatar and Turkish governments signed a deal for their use at the controversial tournament, which kicks off in November. But there could still be plenty of discontent. remains unclear on whether Russia is serious about negotiations, U.

The decision by FIFA , the sport’s governing body, to make Qatar the host for the World Cup in 2022 was controversial from the start, because of the country’s total lack of footballing heritage or infrastructure, and because of protests against its poor treatment of migrant workers.” Around 10,000 Three Lions fans are expected to roar on Gareth Southgate’s England team in Qatar.S. Some national teams, such as Germany (pictured), Norway and the Netherlands, have donned T-shirts at recent games, protesting about the host nation’s human-rights record. Such moves may not make much difference, and those nations are unlikely to boycott such a crucial footballing event. The country’s Super Cup was held in the Qatari capital Doha on Tuesday between Antalyaspor and Besiktas which was marred by violent clashes. But they will continue to be an annoyance to the organisers. Blinken accused Russia of 'gaslighting' the world with accusations that Ukraine is provoking the fight. Across the industry, match-day income dried up, transfers came to a standstill and broadcasters looked for rebates There could be grumbling, too, about geopolitics. England will find out in April who their opponents will be in the group stages when the draw is made.

The average fan on the terraces may not be following the politics of the Middle East, but concerns about Qatar’s support for Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood prompted a boycott and a blockade of the country for several years by neighbouring states, led by Saudi Arabia. Though this is now resolved, such issues have contributed to a wariness about the competition and could affect the number of visitors willing to travel to watch the games. And then there is the timing. World Cup 2022 breaks from tradition by scheduling the tournament in November and December in order to avoid Qatar’s searing summer heat. The fact that European leagues are usually in full flow during those months has raised eyebrows because of the disruption it will cause.

But the World Cup will not be the only source of angst in the football world in 2022. There has been growing resentment towards some club-owners and their business plans. The issue came to a head in April 2021 with the announcement of a proposed European Super League ( ESL ). It was the creation of a cartel of 12 of the continent’s biggest clubs, including Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus and Real Madrid, and proposed an elite competition that would have generated lucrative revenues for its members. This was not the first time such a project had been mooted, and although the scheme was quickly abandoned after intense criticism from fans and the general public, it would be foolish to believe it has gone away completely.

The ESL came to the fore partly because of the pandemic. In the 2019-20 season, European clubs’ revenues declined by €3.7bn ($4.3bn) and the top 20 clubs, many of them ESL advocates, suffered a 12% drop in takings. Across the football industry, match-day income dried up, transfers came to a standstill and broadcasters looked for rebates on money already paid.

In 2022 the 2020-21 season’s finances will be revealed and provide a more accurate picture of the pandemic’s impact on the sport. As some preliminary figures have shown, it is unlikely to be pretty. After a whole season without spectators in 2020-21, clubs will have to reassess their levels of debt, costs and funding. The example of La Liga, Spain’s top-flight league, selling a stake to a private-equity company for €2.7bn, showed how football is starting to find alternative sources of investment and financing.

That habit may spread in the coming year. The financial crisis that has unfolded is not confined to small, cash-poor clubs. Barcelona, the epitome of a modern, elitist institution, ran into financial trouble, with huge debts and an unsustainable wage bill. As a result, the club was forced into releasing Lionel Messi, its talismanic captain, to Paris Saint-Germain. Similarly, Inter Milan, Italian champions in 2021, saw their coach and key players leave after their Chinese owner scaled back spending.

In 2022 more clubs will have to overhaul the management of their finances. Football, being the global obsession that it is, will recover as long as further lockdowns can be kept at bay. Sceptics will undoubtedly remind the world about the sport’s problems with human rights, geopolitics and overpaid stars. But, come November, people around the globe will gather round their televisions and passionately cheer their teams on, while reminding each other what a beautiful game it is. Neil Fredrik Jensen: Football analyst and author ■ This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition of The World Ahead 2022 under the headline “Bouncing back” .