2022 is quite a while ahead in time but being a year of the football World Cup, there’s little harm talking about it now, more so since it would be the first World Cup held in the Middle East. The talk about it at the moment comes from the Premier League in England and the problem… it being staged in winter time rather than its usual summer schedule.
According to a Premier League spokesman, “We are opposed to a winter World Cup for obvious practical reasons that would impact on all European domestic football”, which is contrary to what a FIFA vice-president, Briton Jim Boyce as well as Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards said in support of Qatar staging the mundial in winter.
What the Premier League’s spokesman seemingly failed to reason is the likelihood that staging the 2022 World Cup in June; even with the possibility of airconditioned stadia, would pose a great health risk to everyone directly involved with the tournament, with regards especially to sporting participants and teeming spectators, due to temperatures potentially peaking at 50 degrees celcius.
The above quote shows that the Premier League is only concerned about how its business will be affected by a winter World Cup; which would certainly see the Premier League going on a winter break to allow for players to participate at the World Cup.
Along with the fact that the Premier League is the only high profile European league that doesn’t go on a winter break; hence the commercially lucrative period of four humanly gruesome matches in a week/eight days for most EPL clubs, whatever “obvious practical reasons that would impact on all European domestic football” he is on about are total hogwash without need of being known.
For long already, it has been clamoured for the Premier League to take a cue from its counterpart leagues and introduce the winter break, to prevent player burn-outs as the curtain closes on a season and (however slightly impactful) helping its club representatives as well as the national team fair much better at respective competitions.
One man whose name is among those likely to be mentioned when listing some of the league’s and nation’s best striking talents is Michael Owen, who, on Tuesday, released a statement to, with “an immense amount of pride”, announce his retirement at the close of this season after 17 years of professional football.
Now an injury ravaged 33 year old on the sidelines at pseudo-rugby club Stoke City, Owen will be remembered for his goals for England (especially against Argentina and Germany) and mostly as a Liverpool player, without doubt the best period of a career that saw him play for Real Madrid, Newcastle United as well as Manchester United.
It was at Liverpool he was a feared striker and scored a majority of his club goals in a glorious partnership with Robbie Fowler (and Steve McManaman behind them), helping the Reds to a treble in 2001 as well as being awarded the Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year) that year; long before it was merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year award… a time when players who deserved the awards won the awards.
And while Owen’s career after leaving Liverpool took a dive, he still managed a fair four seasons at St. James’, won a league title and two domestic Cups with Manchester United, scored a late winner in a Manchester derby voted the best Premier League match in history and for now is the English national team’s fourth leading all time scorer with 40 goals from 89 appearances, nine goals behind the all time leader Sir Bobby Charlton.
The end of his career certainly isn’t glitterry as should be; what being injury prone can do, but his prowess in front of goal in his prime and at most times in his decline, along with what he achieved individually and with different teams, ranks him arguably among England’s top five strikers ever, which is quite a position among/ahead of names such as Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright among others.
Not one to regret how his career will end, Owen tweeted last night “Don’t really do regrets but if I did, I regret not playing against San Marino in my career! Seems to do wonders for your goals tally!”.
England last night thrashed lowly San Marino 8-0 in one of several World Cup qualifiers played in Europe, with Belgium winning 2-0 at Macedonia, Wales coming from behind to beat Scotland 2-1 in a fiery derby at Glasgow, Portugal needing a late goal to earn a 3-3 draw at Israel and Spain being held to a shock 1-1 draw at home by Finland ahead of their crunch match with France next week.
In Africa, Nigeria will face Kenya on Saturday looking to consolidate on top spot in their qualifying group although a match-up already took place on Thursday after tweeters from both nations engaged in a tweetfight that trended worldwide after the Kenyans expressed displeasure at the poor hosting of their national team in Nigeria ahead of Saturday’s match.
While the tweet war was highly amusing, it should not cover the sad reality in African football that sees visiting teams usually being maltreated in order to hand the home team a psychological advantage ahead of a match, a habit that needs to stop.
Another ‘habit’ that needs stopping is racism and AC Milan’s Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng voiced his opinion on it, urging that racist players should not be allowed to play football again while racist spectators be banned from stadia for life.
The midfielder, who spoke during a United Nations event to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said “If there’s a fan who has done something wrong and he can never come to the stadium again, that is
something that can hurt you because you’re a fan and you love the sport. Or a football player who does something wrong, who is racist, and can never play for the club again or can never play in the country again. These are the things that hurt and I think this is the right way to go. [It needs to be] very strict, very hard and make it very clear.”
Extreme? Maybe yes, most likely no. And him, who has suffered racist abuse himself to the point of walking off the field in January during a friendly match, suggesting such punishments indicates the severity of the abuse players receive at stadia. Now, Samuel Eto’o going all emotional on us during a La Liga match while he was at Barcelona doesn’t seem a tad an overreaction now.
Boateng meanwhile is to become a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination taskforce, which would be headed by Jeffrey Webb, a FIFA vice president, while the identity of other members as well as full details of sanctions to be imposed on racists in the sport would be made known soon, the latter expected to be revealed at a FIFA congress in May.
Wrapping up with matters on the field, Nigeria’s Flying Eagles got their Africa Youth Championship campaign in Algeria back on track with a lone goal win over Gabon in a Group B match on Wednesday, with Mali booking a semi-final spot and a berth at the World Youth Championship with a 2-1 win over DR Congo.
The Flying Eagles, the tournanent’s defending champions, must now defeat the Congolese in their final group match on Saturday to book a semi-final ticket and make the WYC as well. And with the senior national team up against Kenya, there will be no league matches this weekend.
Instead, those matches were played during the week with Rangers going top of the Nigeria Professional Football League with six points from two matches thanks to a 2-1 win at newly promoted Nembe City. Reigning champions Kano Pillars is second on goal difference thanks to a 1-0 win at home to Bayelsa United.
Sunshine Stars is one of three other unbeaten sides in the league and lie in third place on four points following a 1-1 draw at Kwara United that has now drawn its opening two matches along with El-Kanemi Warriors that was held to a goalless draw by Wikki Tourists.
Other results from the league in midweek saw Heartland draw 1-1 at Warri Wolves, Enyimba and Dolphins win by a lone goal at home to Nasarawa United and 3SC respectively while Lobi Stars beat Akwa United 2-1 in Makurdi and Kaduna United claimed a 2-0 win over visiting Sharks.
And on the heel of those round of matches, the league received a financial boost of N550m from its title sponsor, which also paid N100m in compensation to Total Promotions; the outfit that initially got the rights to be title sponsor of the league.
All that settled, I’m looking forward to Nigeria’s senior and cadet teams posting good wins over Kenya and DR Congo respectively and make the weekend more worthwhile.
Do have a good one as well.