Arsene Wenger says he is “ready to take that gamble” over his proposals to overhaul football’s match calendar “to make the game better”.
The former Arsenal boss has suggested fewer international breaks and staging the World Cup every two years.
In an exclusive interview with BBC podcast The Sports Desk, Wenger said: “The risk is to make football better, and I’m ready to take that gamble.”
He added the current schedule offered “no clarity, no simplicity, no modern way to organise a season”.
Wenger, head of global development for world governing body Fifa, said: “I think if we go on like that we hit the wall.”
He said he would tackle “chaos” and “congestion” in the game.
“What is absolutely detrimental to the players is repeated travelling and jet-lag. With reducing the qualifying period, I believe that the clubs will benefit, the players would benefit.”
According to a survey commissioned by Fifa, a majority of fans favoured holding a men’s World Cup more frequently than every four years – although the most popular response across all age groups was to maintain the status quo.
When asked whether he risked devaluing football’s showpiece tournament by doubling its frequency, Wenger said: “The World Cup is such a huge event that I don’t think it will diminish the prestige. You want to be the best in the world and you want to be the best in the world every year.
“I’m not on an ego trip. I’ve been asked to help to shape the calendar of tomorrow, I consult the whole world.”
‘Emotional response’ to World Cup plans
On Wednesday European football’s governing body Uefa said the plans created four significant “dangers” for football, including a potential loss in prestige for the World Cup and concerns over player welfare.
It rejected Wenger’s suggestion the new schedule would improve the competitive chances of smaller nations, and said the development of women’s football, with tournaments “deprived of exclusive slots and overshadowed by the proximity of top men’s events”, would be impacted.
It also accused Fifa of a lack of consultation.
“I’m confident, but I do not know the forces who are for or against. I just make that proposal because I think it’s good for the game,” insisted Wenger.
“I was a long time manager at Arsenal and I felt always that the separation between international competition and club competition was not good enough.
“After the proposal for the World Cup every two years sometimes [there is an] emotional response.
“I’m not surprised. Many people who were completely against it changed their mind after having seen my proposal.
“Some people have judged only based on every two years of World Cup and it was more emotional because ‘we’ve all grown up in that cycle’, and I can understand that.
“But many responses who were negative came out because they had not completely seen the whole concept. This concept of course, every two years a World Cup makes only sense if you see the whole proposal and if you regroup the qualifiers.”
‘A proposal to make football more meaningful’
After 166 member associations voted to approve a feasibility study when it was proposed by the Saudi Arabian federation earlier this year, Wenger was tasked by Fifa president Gianni Infantino with finding the best way to change it.
His ideas include:
- A biennial World Cup in even years;
- Confederation tournaments (including the European Championship) in odd years;
- Either one (October) or two (October and March) mid-season international breaks, for a month in total, when qualifying for major tournaments will take place, rather than the current five windows;
- Guaranteed rest periods of 25 days for players once tournaments are over.
Fifa will hold an online summit with its member associations on 30 September to discuss the international men’s and women’s calendars.
The current match calendar for the women’s game runs to the end of 2023, while the men’s expires in 2024.
“The international match calendar is fixed until 2024. So until then, nothing can change. I’ve been guided by a few ideas to propose a plan to reshape the international match calendar,” said Wenger.
“The first one is to make football better all over the world. The second one is to have a more modern way and more simple way to organise the calendar. Therefore, I want to reduce the number of qualifiers and to regroup the qualifying periods.”
When asked if he would support such an idea if still a club manager, Wenger said: “I would agree with what I propose because I think for the club, it’s much better. There is no interference during the season and I suffered a lot from interference during the season.
“It’s not about me, it is about the proposal to make football better, clearer, more simple and more meaningful to the world.
“I am convinced that the clubs gain in it because they can focus completely, they have their players available for the whole season and the national teams benefit from it as well.
“There’s no increase of number of games, there’s a better rest period, less travelling and more quality competition. That’s why I think this project is really defendable.
“Yesterday I was in a very long meeting with Fifpro [the players’ union], we consult everybody. We are conscious that we need to talk to everybody. I think I’ve convinced Fifpro that in my programme the players were my first worry.”
Addressing concerns – Wenger’s response
Q. What about the cost to fans who are desperate to see World Cups and now face double the cost?
Wenger: “I have a huge sympathy for that, of course, and that is a factor that has to be analysed. That’s why I told you, I have plenty of logistics still to be studied and the financial aspects of the fans is one of them.”
Q. What about the concern that it will ‘muscle in’ on Women’s World Cups and Olympics?
Wenger: “We wouldn’t. What you signalled to me now is quite interesting, because when I asked people, ‘do you think the World Cup for women every two years would be good?’ everybody says yes, it would help to improve women’s football. That’s what we want to do. We want for them as well to organise the World Cup every two years.”
Q. Do you believe an agreement can be reached?
Wenger: “I hope so. I consulted Uefa as well. I spoke to them, I explained my project so we have a dialogue going on. After that, how we will work with Uefa and all the federations in Europe, that’s down after to Gianni Infantino and people who are responsible for that.”
Q. There will be many Arsenal fans who still see you as a legend but who will be wondering why you are meddling with the game’s best loved competition. Why risk ruining it? What would you say to them?
Wenger: “Until now, club football is 80%, national team football is 20% and I want to keep that balance. What I want to keep to the fans, to the Arsenal fans and to the fans all over the world is better competition and more meaningful competition. And overall, I care about the Arsenal fans but I care about football fans all over the world. We have to prepare football for 2028 and after.”
Q. Would your proposals help the development of young players?
Wenger: “Of course. I would say federations go to a big competition, they see why they do well and why they don’t do well, when they come back, we’ll see what can we do for our football.
“They do basically develop a youth team program. I can give you examples of many federations who have improved their football because they have not done well in the World Cup. They came back and say ‘what can we do for our youth to develop players?’
“The competition, the World Cup is only the end of it. I believe you can improve football by improving the level of education inside the countries by giving better access to better competitions and by improving the rules of the game. What we are talking about is about the quality of competitions and the program and the calendar.”