In the second part of an exclusive in-depth interview with FIFA.com, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter spoke at length about the challenges facing the game in 2011 and beyond. In doing so he discussed the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010, the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, women’s football, refereeing and the Task Force Football 2014, among other issues.
Click on the link in the right-hand column to read part one of the interview.
FIFA.com: The year kicks off with the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. What do you make of the three nominees, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi?
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter: Last year was a World Cup year and it’s no surprise that two of the three candidates should play for world champions Spain. As for Argentina's Lionel Messi, no one can deny he’s an exceptional player. Spain’s Vicente del Bosque is also in there as one of the three nominees for coach of the year.
Brazil usually have a few candidates in the frame. Why do you think they’re missing this time around?
There are some Brazilians up for the FIFA/FIFpro World XI, but they’re mostly defenders. That’s a little bit of a surprise perhaps, but it’s just a reflection of Brazil’s approach at South Africa 2010. They played a European game based around a formidable defence comprising the likes of Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Juan and Michel Bastos.
The three nominees for the FIFA Ballon d’Or are all relatively small in size. What do you think that tells us?
That anyone can play football and that you don’t necessarily have to be big and strong. That’s always been the case, though. Just look at strikers like Gerd Muller and Uwe Seeler, Diego Maradona or Jean-Pierre Papin, who weren’t very big players either.
South Africa 2010 is still fresh in the memory and now 2014 is looming on the horizon.
Yes. The World Cup will be taking place in a little over three years. The preliminary draw will be held on 30 July and there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of infrastructures. There’s no time to waste.
The next FIFA World Cup is being played in Brazil. Is it a case of football coming home?
I’m delighted the tournament’s going back to South America for the first time since 1978, when there were only 16 teams. Now there are 32 and the World Cup has taken on a whole new dimension since then. No matter where it is held, though, the World Cup is so big that our partners in both television and marketing will follow us anywhere.
You’ve talked before about the social role of the FIFA World Cup. What will that involve in Brazil exactly?
Our goal in Brazil is to create infrastructures in the provinces. A lot of the population live in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, but at the next World Cup we’ll be going further north and to Manaus in the state of Amazonia. It’s an emerging and very multicultural country with 200 million inhabitants, although there is still poverty as well. Nevertheless, I’ve no doubt the legacy of the World Cup will help in that respect too.
Brazil 2014 aside, the year ahead promises to be a busy one.
There are competitions in four different confederations in 2011: the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, the Copa America in South America and the African Nations Championship. And then we have five FIFA World Cup competitions: the Women's World Cup, the U-17, U-20 and Beach Soccer World Cups and the Club World Cup. So we’re going to be seeing a lot of good football this year.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ is a major event on the calendar. What are you expecting from the competition?
I think it’s important it’s taking place in the heart of Europe, in a country where women’s football is strong. The women’s game has struggled to gain acceptance in financial terms. People don’t seem to have much faith in it, but Germany can change that by putting on a good tournament and, more importantly than anything, filling the stadiums. A crowd of 50,000 is expected for the Opening Match in Berlin, which is already a great achievement.
Why has women’s football failed to take off in some countries?
Young women have a lot of passion for the game. It’s a sport anyone can play, but when women reach a certain age or level they find there aren’t any professional leagues around, which makes it difficult for them to carry on playing. Technically, however, the game has improved a great deal. For example, the standard of play in the final of the U-17 Women’s World Cup between Japan and Korea Republic was very high.
A number of big issues will be tackled in the months ahead, some of them by the Task Force Football 2014. What is its role?
Its objective is to assess tournaments and the way in which the game is organised. Let me give you a few examples. At the moment three points are awarded for a win and one for a draw, which is something we can discuss and decide whether it’s a good thing or not. Is extra-time the only option we have when a game ends in a draw? And if we stick with extra-time, how should we end games? Is it worth taking another look at the golden goal? Some people like it, some people don’t. There are a lot of issues regarding tournaments we can look at and discuss.
What other topics will be coming up for debate?
The other big issue is the calendar. In my view, and this is something on which Michel Platini agrees, domestic championships are too long because there are too many teams and too many matches. Teams in leagues with 20 clubs play 38 games, on top of which they also have national cup competitions and league cups, etc. This also creates a conflict of interest between national teams and clubs, some of whom complain that their players come back tired or injured. That’s not the fault of the international calendar, however, and it’s a subject that ought to be discussed.
There has been a fair amount of criticism with regard to refereeing recently. What, in your opinion, are the next steps that need to be taken?
We have a very clear target in this respect, and that’s to have only professional referees officiating at the 2014 World Cup. That’s a target we have to reach. Coaches are professional now and so are players, and there’s no reason why referees shouldn’t be either. Some people say there’s not enough money to pay them, but there always seems to be plenty in the professional leagues.
Is the international calendar for youth players also up for discussion?
I think the calendar for youth tournaments should be brought into line with the international calendar. It’s the same principle. As for Olympic tournaments, we have a regulation that is valid until 2016, and that’s for teams to pick U-23 players and three over-age players if they wish. Those U-23 players should be released by their clubs.