AT Qatar 2022, the football is going to be substandard. That’s the last straw because it was the only straw left for World Cup lobbyists and denialists to cling to.
Apart from everything else, there would always be the football, the only reason to believe in a morally bankrupt tournament that has otherwise drained our reserves of goodwill.
At least the football would make it worthwhile.
And what was the "it" in question? Take your pick. There were the 6,500 migrant workers who have reportedly died since Qatar started building their grotesque white elephants for an indifferent global audience to largely ignore for a month.
There’s the estimated cost of the tournament – around US$220 billion – by far the most expensive World Cup, making it difficult in the future for bidding nations who must answer to their tax payers and basic human rights and labour laws.
There’s the endemic corruption as autocrats spared no expense in their long-term quest of sustaining soft power once the oil and gas eventually run out (well aware that climate change is increasingly making fossil fuels less attractive than a date with Sepp Blatter.)
And, if one is feeling particularly masochistic, there’s always the perverse pleasure of listening to David Beckham drone on about the tournament’s expected magnificence because there are some nice hotels, which is like complimenting the efficient drainage system in Geylang’s dimly-lit lorongs. Elsewhere, exploited workers are still getting screwed.
But the football was going to make all of that stuff worthwhile, or justified, or palatable, or whatever, I don’t know, but the unwanted hellscape is about to become reality and we’re all supposed to bite our tongues and dutifully marvel at the sporting spectacle.
But the football isn’t really going to excel either, is it? Qatar bought a summer World Cup and then got Fifa to move it to the winter anyway, because the grotesquely rich are not accustomed to hearing the word, ‘no’ too often, so we must hear it instead. Repeatedly. Daily.
No Son Heung-Min. No Ben Chilwell. No Reece James. No Kyle Walker. No Raphael Varane. No Diogo Jota. Others will join them. Some may recover. The race for World Cup fitness is as old as England’s obsession with broken metatarsals.
But this is different, as everything must be different, at a corruption-drenched tournament drowning in its own greed and stupidity.
This is the World Cup of suffering. First, they came for the migrant workers. Then they came for the supporters. And now they come for the players. All must suffer for a dodgy, geopolitical cause. It's a rare example of equality at least. Qatar 2022 is shattering dreams for all.
As Jamie Carragher pointed out this week, a short-term injury in the final weeks of a domestic season is a slight concern ahead of a summer World Cup, but Qatar 2022 has turned a minor knock into a career-defining nightmare.
Son has needed surgery to stabilise a fracture around his left eye, which he picked up in Tottenham’s Champions League win at Marseille, which was played three weeks before South Korea’s opening game against Uruguay. Ludicrous.
Chilwell pulled his hamstring in Chelsea’s Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb. England’s opening game against Iran is 18 days away. Idiotic.
Cramped fixtures run salt into players' wounds
And we’re not done yet. The English Premier League’s final day of matches before the World Cup is 13 November. Fulham and Manchester United have been given the late kick-off, which must feel about as welcome as being given the measles. Their match begins in the early hours of 14 November, Singapore time. Fifa’s final deadline for World Cup squads is 13 November.
Qatar 2022 begins on 20 November, reiterating with impeccably graceless timing that the tournament is about many things: most are uncomfortable, few are about football.
Son’s injury feels particularly symbolic. Asia’s beloved poster boy remains a paragon of virtue: loyal, filial and genuinely inspirational. Maybe he’ll be the unsullied one if he misses out. Dropping the South Korean into this World Cup is like dunking Tinkerbell into a septic tank. He doesn’t need the stench.
But his career has earned an uplifting denouement. At 30, his peak can still be spoken of in the present tense, but Qatar’s winter farce is potentially winding down the clock on Son’s behalf, taking away his time. His moment.
He’s not alone either.
Two weeks ago, Varane left the field in tears. An awkward fall ruled him out for Manchester United and possibly for France at the World Cup. The injury was not his major concern. It was the scheduling. He will recover, just not quickly enough for a tournament that is wilfully diminishing its own stature.
Domestic and European fixtures were already condensed to accommodate the mid-season interruption. Injuries are the inevitable consequence. A lack of recovery time rubs salt into literal wounds. These players never stood a chance.
England manager Gareth Southgate is losing full-backs on a weekly basis. Left-back Chiwell is now in doubt. Right-back Reece James has already been ruled out and the obvious replacement, Kyle Walker, continues to struggle with a groin problem.
Trent Alexander-Arnold may not require an ideological change of heart to be included. He could be the last full-back standing.
World Cup squads, line-ups and results are going to be determined not by form, artistry and improvised flashes of genius, but by 10-day injuries and cuts and bruises in a war of attrition, where the nation with the fewest minor knocks wins the trophy.
That sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
But then, who really cared about the quality of content in the first place? Qatar 2022 is concerned primarily with enhancing the host nation’s international status. And you can’t make a reputation without breaking a few superstars.
This is a football tournament where the football can only come a distant second.
Qatar 2022 is concerned primarily with enhancing the host nation’s international status. And you can’t make a reputation without breaking a few superstars.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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