‘Mistake’: Sepp Blatter confesses possible Qatar 2022 error

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This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a FIFA executive call Qatar 2022 a mistake. But it is the first time the M-word has passed the lips of the most powerful man in world soccer. That Sepp Blatter’s now acknowledging FIFA may have screwed up may clear the way to finally correcting the problem, potentially providing long-term solutions for when climate forces World Cups to shift seasons.

In July, FIFA executive committee chairman Theo Zwanzinger (former German soccer head) called awarding World Cup 2022 to Qatar a “blatant mistake,” but citing reasons like the “unity of German football,” Zwanzinger’s complaints sounded more like self-centered objection than broad, level-headed concern.

Blatter, however, has no such allegiance, even if his devotion of FIFA’s power creates a whole different bias. But in this case, with so many people objecting to a summer World Cup in Qatar, it’s now in Blatter’s best interest to admit his organization made a mistake.

From The Guardian’s reporting (linked above):

Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, has admitted that it “may well be that we made a mistake” in awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar but underlined his commitment to move the tournament to the winter to avoid the searing summer heat …

Blatter has swung from saying that it was for the Qatari World Cup organisers to insist on a switch from summer, when temperatures can reach 50C, to proposing a vote when the Fifa executive board meets on 3 and 4 October on a move in principle.

This issue has been vaulted back to into the news by Tuesday’s meeting of the European Clubs Association – the body expected to provide the greatest resistance to a winter World Cup. The potential to interfere with Europe’s club season was expected to spur objections, but as organization senior vice president Umberto Gandini, AC Milan’s director, put it on Monday in Geneva, the shift in season is “almost inevitable.”

Gandini’s bigger fear, at this point, is that moving the World Cup will becoming more than a one-off for 2022, a potential policy made more likely by Blatter’s recent comments to Inside World Football (as collected by The Guardian):

“If we maintain, rigidly, the status quo, then a Fifa World Cup can never be played in countries that are south of the equator or indeed near the equator,” he said. “We automatically discriminate against countries that have different seasons than we do in Europe. I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world any more, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in far away places.”

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know this is my exact position. Committing the World Cup to any specific time of the year precludes a number of nations from hosting the event. A number of these are highly populated nations (China, India) where a World Cup could eventually be highly influential, while other regions (North Africa, West Africa) are already soccer-loving areas where World Cups at another point of the year would make for a better event (rationale that would also apply to places like the United States and Mexico, previous hosts of World Cups).

source: Reuters
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani and his wife Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser al-Misnad hold a copy of the World Cup trophy after the awarding of the 2022 World Cup. The event marked the first time a World Cup finals was awarded to a nation in the Middle East – the second time the event will take place in the Asian confederation (Japan-South Korea 2002).

Beyond that, it’s just kind of narrow-minded. Why commit to one point of the calendar when you don’t have to? Why not take every potential World Cup and ask “how do we make this the best event possible?” Relative to that question, the status quo seems confusingly restrictive: “How do we make this the best June-July event possible?”

This, however, is not a popular view. Many believes the World Cup just belongs in the European summer. Why? Because that’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how it should be. That’s what people have grown to expect.

You’ll hear arguments about television viewers, broadcast revenue, and the impossibility of shifting schedules. None of them are true. Nobody’s going to avoid watching a January-February World Cup. As such, broadcasters aren’t going to pay less. As much as European leagues will argue a schedule can’t be done, an early August until December, March through late June window will allow even the crowded English football season to be played out. The objections aren’t about impossibility. They’re about inconvenience.

As Qatar is teaching us (on multiple levels), there is no “should be”. Instead, it’s about doing what’s best for the event. And now that FIFA has committed to this Qatar mistake, it’s time to move the finals to January. Because that’s the way to put on the best World Cup 2022.

And once that precedent is set, it’s time to look at places like West Africa or China, look 20 or 40 years down the road, and ask who’s best served by committing the World Cup to summer? Is it the 700-plus million people in Europe? Or the over 6 billion people living elsewhere in the world?

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.