World football’s governing body FIFA has ignored European opposition to its plan to revamp the Club World Cup by voting to approve a new 24-team tournament starting in June 2021.
Describing himself as a “very happy man”, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced the decision after a meeting of the ruling council in Miami on Friday.
But the move to scrap the current seven-team tournament, which takes place every winter but is largely ignored by European fans, and replace it with a larger, more lucrative contest every fourth summer, would appear to set FIFA on collision course with Europe’s elite.
Infantino wants Europe to provide eight of the 24 teams, with six coming from South America, three each from Africa, Asia and North and Central America and one from Oceania, and it is suggested that each club could earn £50million for taking part.
But the European Club Association, which represents 232 of the continent’s leading sides, Europe’s governing body UEFA and the world players’ union FIFPro are unhappy with what they claim is a lack of consultation in regards to the congested global calendar and Infantino’s financial plans for the new tournament.
In a letter that was leaked on Friday, the ECA’s executive board, including the bosses of Barcelona, Juve, Manchester United and Real Madrid, said they would not take part in any new competition until 2024 at the earliest and would even consider suing FIFA if it ignored their 2015 deal on the international match calendar.
Speaking to reporters in Miami, Infantino admitted there have been “differences of opinion” since he first floated the idea last year and referred to “constructive dialogue” with Europe that he hoped to build on.
For him, though, the decision to approve his plan was a “milestone in FIFA’s history”, saying that “the world will now see a real Club World Cup where fans will see the best teams in the world compete to be crowned the real world champions”.
He said club football was “evolving at a different pace in different parts of the world” and it was FIFA’s duty to put on an “exciting, prestigious and inclusive competition, and we’ll have that with this Club World Cup, starting in 2021”.
Asked if he was concerned about the prospect of FIFA staging a new events without its biggest stars, Infantino said: “We hope that all the best teams will participate and we’ve had some very positive discussions with (European football’s governing body) UEFA.
“But today it was our responsibility to take a decision because we have to deal with the organisational matters – it is only two years away.”
In its letter, the ECA, which represents 232 of Europe’s best teams, strongly criticised Infantino for failing to reveal more details about who is providing the financial backing for the new competition and ignoring its concerns about the impact on players.
His original plan was to revamp the Club World Cup and start a Global Nationals League, with the two competitions worth a guaranteed £18.8billion over 12 years from a group of investors led by Japan’s technology fund SoftBank.
The Global Nations League has been quietly dropped and Infantino has still not provided any further details on his mystery backers for the new Club World Cup.
But he dismissed the idea that FIFA was increasing the strain on players, saying the new Club World Cup was replacing two unloved competitions: the annual Club World Cup and World Cup warm-up event, the Confederations Cup.
“We are the only organisation reducing the number of tournaments and games – this will not have a neutral impact on the calendar, it will be positive,” he said.
“Of the 24 teams, two thirds of them will play only two games and the finalists will play five. Five games in four years. I don’t think anyone can that is an large additional burden.”
No venue was mentioned for the inaugural new and improved tournament in 2021, but it is scheduled to take the slot currently reserved for the Confederations Cup, June 17 to July 4.