FIFA president Gianni Infantino. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Things are happening very fast in 2017.
Two weeks into the New Year the biggest news in football comes out of Zurich. FIFA finally approved its president, Giovanni Infantino’s proposal to expand the World Cup from 36 countries to 48!
The reactions since then have been spontaneous and diverse. It is as if people were jolted from a deep slumber. Why the issue was not vigorously publicly scrutinized and interrogated before such a big decision was taken still baffles me.
Be that as it may, the world has woken up now and, this past week has been confronted with the reality of an expansion with huge repercussions. The first is that hosting the global championship will now require more facilities, services, personnel and finances than ever before, making the project a very expensive and less attractive proposition for a single country
There is also now a growing school of thought that this expansion will dilute the competitiveness and standard of the matches in the World Cup when several additional countries will join the ‘party’ from less developed football cultures of Africa and Asia.
Short of declaring that the hosting of the World Cup is now the exclusive privilege of only the richest countries in the world, the only other option is to open the championship new ideas and a new arrangement.
With 12 more teams and more matches to be played over the same period of 32 days as before, the championship would now demand more of everything stretching the resources of a single host nation to breaking point, and eliminating the poorer nations of the world that should actually be its greatest beneficiaries.
In recent times, we have seen massive protests by the citizens of some host countries (Brazil in 2014 for example) that believe the championship impoverishes rather than enriches their countries and people.
Unfortunately, Giovanni’s motivation for spearheading the new re-arrangement is less about the standard of football during the World Cup and more about the greater benefits that will accrue to both FIFA and the several countries around the world that will now have the opportunity to enjoy being a participant or a host of the global competition.
Beyond these, I see further opportunities and benefits emanating from this new arrangement.
The bidding and hosting procedure for the World Cup will never be the same again. A new concept will inevitably evolve.
I saw it coming 13 years ago. My lone voice in the wilderness was drowned by the cacophony of the blurred minds and limited vision of those that did not see the rationale and the greater benefits of getting more countries to come together and use the power of the most prestigious football championship as a tool of socio-cultural and economic development.
I saw the prospects 13 years ago. The new FIFA have done so now and have sprouted a new system that resurrects a positive rethink of the idea of joint or co-hosting of the World Cup.
My simple take on the matter are these:
1. There is no going back to the old format again. This new system will take off in 2026;
2. Further debate over its pros and cons until it is tested in 2026 is a waste of time and energy;
3. Neighbouring countries in different continents will have to start thinking of joining forces and combining resources to bid for and to host the World Cup of 2026 and beyond;
4. The rotational arrangement between the continents will now be more meaningful and would have gone full circle to return to Africa after 2026. In 2030 it will be Africa’s turn again;
5. West Africa is the most qualified and most ready region in Africa to bid for and to host the next African World Cup;
6. Nigeria has already done substantial ground work on a co-hosting arrangement that only requires a little bit of tweaking here and there to become a full working document;
7. West Africa is Africa’s football power region having contributed the most to the recognition of Africa’s strength in the World Cup;
8. The region is ready-made for the World Cup in terms of its rich culture, economic strength, political stability and compact size;
9. There is already a well established protocol on ground in the region that will be fast-tracked by a joint effort to host the World Cup; and,
10. It will be the simplest, most beautiful, most colourful, most integrative, most collaborative and least expensive World Cup in history. Yet, its economic viability for FIFA would be guaranteed.
So, specifically, I am proposing again that five countries in the West African sub-region should bid for the rights to host the next World Cup coming to Africa. The other countries shall enjoy the ripple effect.
I am also predicting that 13 years from now, Nigeria will lead Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire to host the 2030 World Cup.
The 12 venues needed to host the global championship shall be shared as follows: Nigeria 6; Republic of Benin 1; Togo 1; Ghana 2; and Cote d’Ivoire 2.
That journey should start now.
It will be the greatest show the world has ever seen and will catalyse the fastest economic and infrastructural transformation of a poor region in the history of the world through sports!
It will happen!
The Best Players In The World!
Several weeks before it finally happened last week I had predicted that Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to be crowned the world’s player of the year and Riyad Mahrez the African player of the year 2016.
Both predictions came to pass.
With Ronaldo’s performances in the victories of both his country (Portugal) and his club (Real Madrid), as well as his unassailable haul of goals in all competitions in Europe, he definitely deserves it.
Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City FC’s performances and the sheer scale of Leicester City’s achievements in winning the EPL last season dwarfed anything any other African player did in the same period.
The only way Pierre Aubameyang would have been chosen ahead of Mahrez was for Gabon to have played and qualified for AFCON (they qualified automatically by virtue of being hosts), or for Borussia Dortmund to have won the European club championship, or even the Bundesliga. None happened, so Pierre lost out in the race against Mahrez.
No one else came close.
So, I say congratulations to the new kings of World and African football!
China – A Cemetery, Not A Nursery!
One of the most celebrated players in the history of African football is undoubtedly John Mikel Obi.
With Chelsea FC he has won all the major European club trophies in the past 10 years.
In African football he also has a rich chest of silverware.
As the twilight zone of his career looms Mikel is moving to the lucrative Chinese league with a mind-boggling financial package. It is good move.
Unfortunately, he claims to be doing it for the sake of Nigeria so that he would have more playing time and sustain his level and fitness, but everyone knows better than that.
Despite the humongous expenditure of the Chinese to buy their way into global football reckoning, their investments so far have not translated to success on the field of play. No player has used the Chinese league to enhance his football career. China is usually a terminal bus stop where money takes precedence over football development.
So, even as I agree with Mikel’s deft move to China, I see it as his parting gift to himself (and not for Nigeria’s sake) from football at the highest level. China is a football cemetery not a nursery!