By Samindra Kunti
December 5 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has criticised La Liga’s intention to stage a league match in the United States, but called the proposed Copa Libertadores final in Madrid an ‘exceptional’ one-off.
Infantino, who was criticised for mixing politics and sports by cozying up to world leaders at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, witnessed the chaos surrounding the return leg of the Copa Libertadores final between River Plate and Boca Juniors first hand. The FIFA supremo had expressed his disappointment at the postponement of the second leg, but defended the decision to play the second leg in the Spanish capital. Miami and Doha had also been touted as host cities.
“The issue with the Copa Libertadores final is a unique exception,” said Infantino. “Conmebol analysed everything and reached the conclusion that playing it in Madrid was the only solution. You can’t at all compare this with the idea of playing a league match abroad for business reasons.”
Infantino criticised La Liga’s idea of playing matches abroad in no uncertain terms. La Liga president Javier Tebas has aggressively been pushing for league matches to be played in expansion markets as he seeks to bridge the commercial gap with the English Premier League. The Copa Libertadores final in Madrid would appear to strengthen Tebas’ case.
“I want to see MLS matches in the United States, not Spanish league games, while in Spain I want to see Spanish league games and not Premier League games,” said the FIFA president. “If we do business like this then where will football stop? Football is strong because it is well organised. There are national associations, continental confederations and then FIFA.”
Infantino also denied meddling in CONMEBOL affairs in the hours leading up to the eventual postponement of the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final. Media reports suggested that the FIFA president met with the two club presidents, Boca Juniors president Daniel Angelici and River Plate president Rodolfo D’Onofrio, as the situation outside the ground escalated.
“The president of FIFA can’t take that decision or put on pressure in this sense because it’s a Conmebol decision,” explained Infantino. “But, of course, the FIFA president was there at the Estadio Monumental and I have some experience in the organising of tournaments. I organised I don’t know how many Champions Leagues and European Championships. If I can help then I help and support. I think there’s always a need to play when it’s possible to. The first decision to try to play was the correct one, with the information that there was at that moment.”
Ultimately, the game was postponed as Boca Juniors’ players were in no medical condition to play. In a muddled process Conmebol then decided that the second leg was to be played in the Spanish capital, much to the dismay of both clubs: River Plate rejected the decision to play abroad and Boca Juniors wanted a win by default. The farcical organisation of South America’s biggest club game has cast doubts over Argentina’s tri-nation bid, alongside Uruguay and Paraguay, for the 2030 World Cup, but Infantino assuaged any fears over a dramatic fallout saying “it’s too early.”
“The decision about 2030 will be made in four or five years, so there’s enough time to show that something happened and also to say ‘but look what we did after this’,” said Infantino.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1556260136labto1556260136ofdlr1556260136owedi1556260136sni@o1556260136fni1556260136