Europe shows Infantino the way on the pitch – now it must do the same off it | World Cup 2022

tThe World Cup started with a European accent. In his speech, FIFA President Gianni Infantino attacked Europe. He accused its representatives of arrogance, double standards and self-centeredness. He overlooked one point: the center of football is already in Europe: historically, culturally, economically and sportingly. Only in Europe can you have such a great career in top-level football.

Europe dominates contemporary football. It is more evident than ever at the World Cup. The last time a tournament final was played without a European team was almost three-quarters of a century ago. The last four world champions are Italy, Spain, Germany and France – and three of the four finalists came from Europe. In 2006 and 2018, all semi-finals were European.

The dominance of club football is even more evident. Everything points to Europe, to the five major leagues, and this trend has intensified since the creation of the Champions League in 1992. Pele and Zico were the last world footballers to really shine outside of Europe. Diego Maradona spent his best years in Spain and Italy, Lionel Messi went to Barcelona as a child, Neymar at 21, from the starting XI to the last non-European world champions, Brazil 2002, only one player played in Europe during his life: Marcos, goalkeeper .

Talent is evenly distributed around the world – South America develops many great footballers, Africa has great players – but they always take the last step in the Europa League. The last world champion teams where this was different were Brazil and Argentina in the 1970s.

Now the teams of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are almost exclusively made up of footballers from the English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 or Serie A, and teams with a different profile have almost no chance of reaching the semi-finals in the European Cup. World, not to mention winning the title. Hosts Qatar failed against Ecuador because the South Americans had, at Inner Valencia, a player who developed his style of play in England.

The first impression of this World Cup is that Europe will give Infantino the answers on the pitch. England showed some weaknesses in defence, but scored six goals against Iran. Three-time World Cup finalists Netherlands defeated African champions Senegal. For the French, Australia will not be the last opponent, against which they have the upper hand in all positions. From the first minute, Spain once again demonstrated the clear technique that sets them apart from everyone else: attacking possession. 7-0 against Costa Rica was an uneven duel. Belgium, Denmark, Poland, Wales and Croatia were also well organised. The performance of European players is thanks to them and the tournament has become attractive.

Italy, European champions, did not even participate in the tournament, nor the two previous World Cup finalists Sweden and Hungary, nor Czech and Slovakia, which were part of the same country, were in the final twice. Erling Haaland, potentially one of the leading strikers of the next decade, is absent from Qatar because the European qualifiers were too strong for Norway. If World Cup places were awarded solely on sporting criteria, Europe would have more than 13 of Qatar’s 32 entrants.

Netherlands players celebrate during their victory over Senegal
Netherlands players celebrate during their victory over African champions Senegal. Image: shutterstock

Only Germany was out of touch. They were leading 1-0 against Japan when Hansi Flick replaced three players from Bayern Munich plus one player each from Chelsea and Manchester City and replaced them with members of the squad with little Champions League experience. Somehow, Germany outdid themselves as Japan’s top scorer in the 2-1 Bundesliga win.

Otherwise, European teams are usually assertive on the world stage. In this way, they provide sports politicians with a model to follow. If there is one criticism of them, it is that they have betrayed the Enlightenment values ​​that the continent stands for. For many years, their focus has been on high individual earnings rather than on the responsibility football has to bear in society.

What happened to Fifa, a European institution based in Zurich, which was once founded out of a desire for international solidarity by Sweden, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland?

Football needs new actors to deal with its credibility crisis. They can go back to their origins. A century and a half ago, it began its world career in England, Scotland and Switzerland, and Spain and Germany soon followed. He was very successful because he was part of the labor and democracy movement. It made social progress possible and required fair play. It has been given life in the club culture.

To this day, those roots are the strength of football. The task now is to defend these achievements. For Europe, it is a matter of self-preservation. Cooperation is required, football is a team sport.

The first steps have been taken. The truth is that awarding the World Cup to Qatar 12 years ago is now largely accepted as a mistake. In Qatar, some European federations wanted to join forces to send a signal of diversity with the colored captain’s armband. However, it would have been naive to count on Fifa’s leniency in doing so. In the power struggle with Infantino, a Swiss of Italian descent, Europe is lagging behind.

Teams now give up the captaincy, but that cannot be the last word. Buoyed by the strong performances of the players, UEFA’s associations now have to fight back in union with allies from other continents of course. We must preserve the values ​​of football and what this game stands for.

Philip Lamm’s column was produced in partnership with Oliver Fritsch at Zeit Online, the German online magazine, and is published in several European countries.

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