By Mark Docherty
Since the arrest of Michel Platini, rumours have been circulating that the next World Cup may be stripped from Qatar amid charges of corruption against FIFA. With so little time to prepare before the tournament is due to be played, if it is reallocated it would surely have to be awarded to a nation with existing infrastructure capable of hosting the competition.
With this in mind, odds on England hosting the 2022 World Cup have been slashed to evens by several bookmakers.Understandably this has sparked much excitement in the UK that, after one of the best tournaments in living memory in 2018, the best players in world football will be coming to these shores. Football really might be coming home.
However, I would urge caution. A number of excitable England fans have hypothesised that home advantage may even be enough to carry the players to victory. However, despite England’s plucky run to the semi-finals last summer, an objective observer can come to no conclusion other than that Gareth Southgate’s current squad is a long way off being ready to challenge for the world title.
Surely the recent Nations League campaign is evidence of this. England has failed to learn from past mistakes; being unable to take advantage of early dominance in big games, then falling away in the latter stages. Sound familiar?
Moreover, England’s youthful team from 2018 have not matured to nearly the extent that the more optimistic believe. The successful World Cup campaign included players such as John Stones, fresh from a comfortable title win at the heart of the Manchester City defence, Kieran Trippier, who was being billed as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League, and Jesse Lingard, still somehow seen as a youthful prodigy at the raw age of 25.
Now Stones has had just a handful of starts for City since Christmas, Trippier has been a liability for Spurs, regularly finding himself dropped in favour of an erratic Serge Aurier, and Lingard has been impotent on the fringes of a Manchester United team which scraped to a humiliating sixth place finish. Realists accept that in 2018 the stars aligned for a group of players who significantly outperformed the sum of their parts.
As nobody needs reminding, the one and only time to date that England has hosted the tournament, the Three Lions ended up lifting the trophy. So is it really in our interests to host the tournament and use home advantage when the team has such a minimal chance of success? Personally I would rather bide our time until England is truly a powerhouse in the game, so we can do ourselves justice as hosts.
Of course, the tournament could still be a huge success without one of the home nations emerging victorious. Particularly those of a Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish disposition will be keen to remind us that the World Cup is a celebration of world football, not merely the host nation. Yet even in this area I fear that the UK would sell itself short in 2022.
The UK could put on an adequate job of filling in for Qatar, but at such short notice it would not be the exceptional tournament we are capable of. The UK found out that the 2012 Olympics bid had been successful as early as 2005, giving those in charge seven years to prepare.
New stadiums were built, security was stepped up, and systems were put in place for the influx of tourism. In just three years none of this would be possible. It would be enough of a challenge to ensure that the tournament could be played out in a safe environment. And that’s not to mention the fact that the government has more than enough on its plate as it is.
It is difficult to accept after the great summer we enjoyed last year, but the UK would not do itself any favours by hosting the next World Cup. From both a footballing and an organisational perspective, we could not do ourselves justice in 2022. To fulfil our potential, we must bide our time until we are ready.
Then football truly will come home.