Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 11 December 2006

The sooner the Blatter...?

Yes, Sepp Blatter’s opened his mouth again. The big Swiss cheese with a mind full of holes who’s renknowned for his eye-opening comments has now suggested that Europe’s domestic football leagues should run from February to November. He claims that such a system would allow players to recover from injuries and rest over the winter break.

Great idea. Fabulous. No more playing through the cold, snowy, wet and windy months. The whole of Europe synchronised as one. How marvellous.

Marvellous, that is, except for the fact that there can’t be very many players in the UK (or maybe even Europe) that would want to miss out on a summer holiday, so when would they get to rest? The answer, in a word, is ‘winter.’

Providing you, as a player, have managed to make it through to November unscathed, you’d be free to jump on a plane and head off to warmer climes. Fabulous… but don’t get on that plane just yet. Herr Blatter has said that the winter break would be an ideal time for national teams to play their qualification matches. Oh well, maybe you wouldn’t have liked that two-week break in Barbados anyway.

But let’s not consign Sepp Blatter to the looney bin just yet, because he’s also come up with an idea that’s actually got something going for it.

He’s suggested that where the European qualification system for the World Cup is concerned, there should be more groups containing fewer teams, meaning players are involved in fewer games and are in turn less likely to pick up injuries.

This is in direct contrast to recent years where the number of qualifying groups has stayed the same but have swelled to accommodate as many as eight teams. Eight teams means fourteen qualifying games and fourteen reasons for Mourinho, Wenger, Ferguson and co. to bemoan the absence of their players. Any opportunity to reduce that must surely be welcomed, and this might just be the plan to help achieve it.

In the recent past, talk has centered on the smaller nations that now take part in the qualifying competitions for the World Cup and European Championships like San Marino and Andorra. Many claim they should be subjected to a pre-qualifying round to reduce their numbers, which is all well and good, but it wouldn’t necessarily reduce the overall number of fixtures for each team while treating all those competing fairly. This way would make for a shorter, sharper, more exciting competition with equality as its watchword.

So at last there’s a feint home that Mr. Blatter and his boffins in Zurich may have finally conjured up an idea that could benefit the game and be easy to implement. And when are we likely to see it implemented for the first time? 2009 at the earliest, by my reckoning. Let’s just hope it’ll be worth the wait...

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