FIFA

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Joel Matip set to miss a month as FIFA dispute continues

DERBY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Joel Matip of Liverpool in action during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Derby County and Liverpool at iPro Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Liverpool could be without central defender Joel Matip for another month.

[ MORE: Costa trains on own ]

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

Now, Matip and Liverpool are in limbo and the Reds do now want to risk facing a FIFA sanction for playing someone who is deemed ineligible for selection.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules which are as follows:

“A player who has been called up by his association for one of its representative teams is, unless otherwise agreed by the relevant association, not entitled to play for the club with which he is registered during the period for which he has been released or should have been released pursuant to the provisions of this annexe, plus an additional period of five days.”

What now?

Cameroon is not releasing Matip as they obviously feel slighted that he didn’t want to play for them (even though he hasn’t made an appearance for The Indomitable Lions since Sept. 2015) so now Liverpool must wait for them to be knocked out of AFCON unless an agreement is reached. If Cameroon make it to the final on Feb. 5 then Matip will not be available to play for Liverpool again until Feb. 10.

Matip was left out of Liverpool’s squad for the 1-1 draw at Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday as there wasn’t any clear guidance given to the club by FIFA on his availability.

After the game his manager Jurgen Klopp revealed his true feelings about the situation.

“Our understanding is Joel is retired from international football and we, the club, did everything we had to do to make this clear but until now we could not get the response we need to be 100 per cent sure that he can play,” Klopp said. “It’s pretty difficult and pretty frustrating, to be honest. He’s been in training for five days and would have been in the squad, 100 per cent, maybe on the pitch today, so I don’t think it’s fair. But we cannot do more and are still waiting on the decision. We could not take the risk. It is public now, we have this problem and we are not the only team with this problem.”

I’m with Klopp. Shambles.

West Bromwich Albion are also dealing with a similar situation with Cameroon as Allan Nyom cannot get FIFA clearance to play after he also refused a call up.

As for Liverpool, Matip has been key since arriving last summer on a free transfer, playing 14 games in all competitions and scoring once. His partnership with Dejan Lovren has now been broken up and Ragnar Klavan has looked shaky since coming back into the team after Matip’s ankle injury which last saw him play on Dec. 11 against Middlesbrough.

Lynch: US investigators continue to pursue soccer corruption

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 13:  Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson (L) listens as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at a press conference on January 13, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Lynch called the press conference to announce the release of a report which cited widespread abuses by officers in the Chicago police department following a 13-month investigation.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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BALTIMORE (AP) American criminal investigators are continuing to pursue soccer corruption, according to outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who initiated the prosecution of fraudulent FIFA executives.

[ WATCH: Carroll scores sensational bicycle kick in Hammers win ]

Lynch attracted global attention by jolting the world’s most popular sport, launching sprawling criminal cases that burst into view with early morning arrests in May 2015 at a luxury hotel in Zurich ahead of the FIFA presidential election.

[ MORE: Kane hat-trick paces Spurs in easy victory over West Brom ]

The FIFA case, which started when Lynch was a U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn before being appointed the country’s chief law enforcement officer in 2015, has led to more than 40 people or organizations being charged.

“The work that we did, the cooperation from our international partners really made that case possible as well. It continues. It’s ongoing,” Lynch said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“The first trial is scheduled for October, and the investigation continues,” she added.

The American case alleges bribery, fraud, money laundering, and racketeering, including in the award of hosting rights for FIFA’s showpiece World Cup and broadcasting rights for the tournament’s qualifying matches and other international competitions.

“FIFA is supposed to help (children) by building soccer fields and maintaining them,” Lynch said. “So when you have an organization that has so much power, so many resources … and to have them just abdicate that responsibility for personal gain to me, was and is, particularly galling.”

The scandal helped to topple FIFA President Sepp Blatter, whose 17-year reign ended in October 2015 when financial wrongdoing was unearthed in a parallel Swiss investigation.

Lynch’s tenure ends when the President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated on Friday and Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, is the choice to succeed her. Highlighting the importance of pursuing cases against sports-related sleaze, Lynch said the FIFA investigation “exemplifies why corruption is so corrosive” in society.

“When you’re talking about sports, that’s how we teach our kids about fair play and sportsmanship,” she said. “We want them to look up to these sports figures. It’s a character building exercise for them to play sports. So when someone takes that and turns it into the exact opposite and uses the American financial system to do so, that’s when we have to crack down.

“And that’s the lesson, I think, of that case – not just the cooperation and the hard work, but also corruption is corrosive on so many levels in terms of the financial system, in terms of the legal harm, but also the way it kills ideals – in young people, in people who look up to their figures and place their trust in organizations.”

One of the highest-ranking executives to plead guilty is former CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, who awaits sentence at his Atlanta area home after pleading guilty to racketeering charges.

Chuck Blazer, CONCACAF’s No. 2 official from 1990-2011 who was the top American on FIFA’s executive committee, helped Lynch to unearth wrongdoing in soccer. Her name was on 2013 court documents detailing a plea agreement that led to Blazer wearing a wire to assist the investigation. Blazer pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and tax evasion, including admitting receiving payments in a $10 million bribe scheme to support South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

“(The FIFA) case to me also symbolizes what we do at DOJ (Department of Justice), which is we look at things that affect peoples’ everyday lives,” Lynch said. “Soccer is the most popular game in the world.”

Harris reported from London.

US, Mexico could team up and meet FIFA’s World Cup need

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 28:  FIFA President, Gianni Infantino and Victor Montagliani, CONCACAF President speak during the 11th Dubai International Sports Conference on December 28, 2016 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) The United States and Mexico could team up and meet FIFA’s need for the biggest-ever World Cup in 2026 being staged by the most host nations.

Canada has also joined the North American neighbors for informal talks about a three-way bid in a contest that FIFA will complete during American President-elect Donald Trump’s first term, according to persons familiar with the talks. They spoke on grounds of anonymity because the talks are confidential.

FIFA’s decision Tuesday to expand the 2026 tournament – to 48 teams from 32, playing 80 games instead of 64 – increased the chances of co-hosting to share the load.

[ MORE: What would a 48-team draw look like? ]

“In some regions not only does it make more sense, it’s the only sense,” said FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani, who leads the Canadian soccer federation. “I think when more countries share (hosting) it’s an opportunity to grow the game.”

Asked specifically about a potential three-way bid with the U.S. and Mexico, Montagliani said: “It’s definitely a possibility because the rules now allow for it.

“I also respect the fact that each country has the possibility to put on the World Cup (alone) and I think the discussions will happen quite soon as to what is our region is going to look like at this World Cup as I think it is an opportunity for CONCACAF.”

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati also took part in a unanimous FIFA Council decision.

Though Mexico soccer leader Decio de Maria does not sit on FIFA’s strategy-setting panel, he was also in Zurich with a top-level delegation from the regional soccer body, known as CONCACAF.

[ MORE: World Cup’s 48-team format ]

The region was already favored to get its first World Cup since the U.S.-hosted 1994 edition, even before Tuesday’s expansion decision. It now demands more high-quality training camps, hotels and transport for 48 teams, plus FIFA officials and hundreds of thousands of visiting fans.

“It means the number of countries that can host it without building major infrastructure and stadiums is limited,” said Gulati, adding his board has a “fundamental decision” whether to bid. The U.S. could go alone, or bid with one or both neighbors.

Uniting the U.S. and Mexico could win support from more than 20 Spanish-speaking federations among 211 FIFA members that now choose the World Cup hosts.

It should also appeal to FIFA’s sense of soccer having a role in society, amid tense cross-border relations caused by Trump’s outspoken comments on Mexico.

“Listen, I’m a football guy, I’m not a politician,” said Montagliani, who like Gulati speaks fluent Spanish. “The only thing I know from afar about Trump is that he’s a big sports guy and he’s proven that in the past … so you would hope that football will trump politics. No pun intended.”

FIFA typically looks for strong government support, and has it in the next two World Cup host nations Russia and Qatar. Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko is a FIFA Council member and attended Tuesday’s meeting.

FIFA has allowed co-costing at just one of 22 World Cups from 1930 through 2022, which included Mexico hosting alone in 1970 and ’86. FIFA’s former leaders later pledged not to repeat their “two of everything” experience of 2002 in Japan and South Korea.

Still, Infantino campaigned for the presidency last year promising an open mind about pan-regional hosting.

FIFA’s target is May 2020 to choose the 2026 host, though that could change during meetings being held in Bahrain in May.

Asked if bidding could be accelerated if only three candidates emerged, and who all wanted to work together, Infantino said: “It is premature to discuss about it now.”

The merits of a 48-team World Cup (and sample draw)

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 18:  Anthony Stokes (R) of Ireland takes on Fabian Johnson (L) of USA during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium on November 18, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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There are fans in certain confederations disappointed at the expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams in 2026.

A vocal group of Europeans already think it should essentially be a Europe-heavy tournament, and expect the expansion will lead to many blowouts.

Some American and CONCACAF fans worry it will dilute World Cup qualifying, snaring drama from so many fun nights across North and Central America.

[ MORE: World Cup expansion confirmed ]

There’s something in those arguments, but the gains will outweigh the losses across the world. In other words, we have to be careful that we aren’t living in an echo chamber that the political world would even find a bit goofy.

Consider New Zealand, by far the strongest team in its region, has not be assured a spot in the tournament unless it can win a playoff tie. Or great stories like Bob Bradley‘s Egypt, who was at the mercy of a home-and-home battle for a World Cup group despite going 6-0 in group play.

Look it’s easy to be selfish in these instances, but we are not likely to be dealing with the oft-cited “Tahiti in the 2013 Confederations Cup” scenario.

In fact, let’s consider how it would look. Let’s assume that the 16 groups of three teams still feature one seeded team and confederations remain separated.

[ MORE: Explaining the format ]

UEFA will get 16 teams, and have one team per group. CONMEBOL goes up to six teams, with CONCACAF going to 6.5. Africa goes up to nine, while Asia moves to 8.5. Oceania gets one, presumably, with the hosts snaring an extra.


Using ELOratings.net and the FIFA ratings, here is who would be headed for the World Cup:

Seeded: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, Colombia, France, Portugal, Uruguay, Spain, Switzerland, Wales, England, Croatia, Poland, HOSTS.

Remaining UEFA (5): Italy, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Turkey, Ukraine.

Brazil Soccer WCup Colombia Ivory CoastRemaining CONMEBOL (1): Ecuador.

CAF (9): Ivory Coast, Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon, South Africa, Tunisia, Ghana.

Asia (9): South Korea, Iran, Japan, Australia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Syria.

CONCACAF (7): Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Panama, Honduras, Canada, Jamaica.

Oceania (1): New Zealand

[ MORE: Schneiderlin off to Everton ]



Now a sample draw, where two teams would advance from each group.

GROUP A:
Argentina
Italy
Senegal

GROUP B:
Brazil
Netherlands
Egypt

GROUP C:
Germany
Ivory Coast
Mexico

GROUP D:
Chile
Republic of Ireland
Nigeria

GROUP E:
Belgium
Syria
Algeria

GROUP F:
Colombia
Turkey
Cameroon

GROUP G:
France
Qatar
South Africa

GROUP H:
Portugal
UAE
Tunisia

GROUP I:
Uruguay
Ukraine
Ghana

GROUP J:
Spain
Saudi Arabia
Costa Rica

GROUP K:
Switzerland
Uzbekistan
United States

GROUP L:
Wales
Australia
Panama

GROUP M:
England
Japan
New Zealand

GROUP N:
Croatia
Iran
Honduras

GROUP O:
Poland
Ecuador
Canada

GROUP P:
HOSTS (Let’s cater to UEFA and say, uh, Greece)
South Korea
Jamaica

[ MORE: Odegaard leaving Real Madrid on loan ]


RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 29: Giorgos Samaras of Greece controls the ball against Oscar Duarte of Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Costa Rica and Greece at Arena Pernambuco on June 29, 2014 in Recife, Brazil. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
RECIFE, BRAZIL – JUNE 29: Giorgos Samaras of Greece and Oscar Duarte of Costa Rica  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

So, you’re getting more games and more meaningful games, each in their own individual television window. Even groups that seem clean cut — like Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Costa Rica — could be flipped on their ear by the end of the first match.

For what it’s worth, I would not end every match with penalty kicks and keep draws. I’d rather see extra time than an impetus for Greece to pack it inside its own 18 for 90 minutes.

But I believe we’d see something better from a 48-team tournament, and it would mostly end the days of, “Man I wish this list of stars was at the World Cup” (or at least make the list much smaller).

As for the “dud teams” involved, those countries get one less guaranteed game by the move to 3-team groups. And while in some ways qualifying would certainly suffer, consider the following scenarios. With CONMEBOL having 1.5 more spots, you’d see teams 9 and 10 alive longer in qualifying. That’s why it’s arguably an improvement for South America, who should’ve gone to a Hex-style format long ago.

What do you think? Are you bummed about the 48-team World Cup? Or is a lot of the furor rooted in a preference to dislike FIFA moves from the hop?

Follow @NicholasMendola