By Andrew Warshaw
December 11 – Gianni Infantino’s closest technical advisor, Zvonimir Boban, has publicly ruled out the Qatar World Cup in 2022 being expanded to 48 teams – unless it definitely shares the tournament with its neighbours.
Boban, FIFA’s Deputy Secretary General, has also admitted that the FIFA leadership – and by inference his boss – made mistakes in the way it announced plans to change the landscape of world football by revamping the Club World Cup and turning UEFA’s Nations League into a global competition in a $25 billion partnership with a consortium of investors.
Both ideas are to come to a head at the FIFA Council in Miami in March but Boban has given the strongest hint yet that 48 teams, slated to begin at the 2026 World Cup but under consideration for four years earlier, will be a non-starter unless Qatar agrees to joint hosting.
“If it will be 48, for sure Qatar in this case should be sharing it with neighbouring countries,” Boban told TRT World, a Turkish English-language international news channel. “For sure (for Qatar itself) to have 48 teams is just not possible.”
Boban also conceded that FIFA could have done things better in the way it tried to sell the model of Infantino’s $25 billion pet project to the game’s various stakeholders.
UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin is among those who have criticised alleged “secret” dealing orchestrated by FIFA without proper consultation or information sharing.
Boban admitted that there was as yet no agreement “on the principles” of FIFA’s proposals.
“Maybe in the consultation phase we made a few errors,” he said. “It’s complicated work and sometimes you are not realistic (in) what you are doing… We made our errors but we are correcting everything now.”
The former Croatian international, personally brought into the organisation by Infantino, insisted that despite the eye-watering figures involved in the proposed arrangement, FIFA was not just in it for the money even though Infantino needs to find ways to fulfil his election pledge to massively increase funding for the organisation 211 federations.
“We have stated really clearly to all the stakeholders that FIFA doesn’t want anything at all,” declared Boban.
“(The fact is) we already have this tournament. We just want to revamp it which is so normal. Competitions change all the time. Sometimes we have to adapt. We don’t believe we are doing anything wrong.”
Defending Infantino’s reputation, Boban said the FIFA president too often unfairly received a bad press.
Conceding that FIFA perhaps had to “communicate better,” he said: “It is (a) completely different (organisation) to a few years ago. Gianni is an exceptional man with extraordinary intelligence. He’s adored by people wherever we go…and would like to be judged by results. He’s an honest man. It’s only a matter of time before this is recognised worldwide (even if) now he has certain critics. These (criticisms) are unfounded, incorrect and invented.”
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