Premier League hypocrisy in FIFA Club World Cup boycott leaves us worrying about Phil Foden alone

Will Ford
Phil Foden Man City FIFA
Does anyone care about Phil Foden's wellbeing?

If Phil Foden plays every game in the European Championships this summer, all of England’s Nations League fixtures and World Cup qualifiers over the next year and is a stalwart in a Manchester City quintuple, including the Club World Cup next summer, he will have played 87 games of football in a little over a year. Including supposed holidays and ignoring pre-season games, that’s roughly a game of football every four-and-a-half days. It might be a bit much.

FIFA – as is their wont – slipped their revamped 32-team Club World Cup under the radar in December, just ahead of Manchester City’s win over Fluminese in the last of the old iteration of the competition. The new tournament will last a month and feature Champions League holders City and 2021 winners Chelsea, with the finalists playing seven games over 29 days.

Gianni Infantino, bless him, failed to consult football federations, leagues, clubs, players or fans. The FIFA president treats football like a foie gras goose, fattening it to extract maximum value, to a point where it can no longer support its own weight, angering all but a select few who gorge on the yield and don’t give a damn about its welfare.

“We will not play in your Club World Cup – you’re killing the game,” is the threat from Premier League chief Richard Masters and La Liga president Javier Tebas, who won’t sit idly by while their footballers are trotted out for the financial gain of the global governing body. How dare Infantino be so consumed by money as to not care about the physical and mental wellbeing of the players?

Masters and Tebas are currently sitting down with FIFPRO and the PFA at a workload conference in London, in which they will discuss a Club World Cup coup with the aim of forcing FIFA into a rethink.

Call us cynics, but we wonder whether the heads of the two richest football leagues in the world actually give two hoots about the lack of downtime for footballers, or whether they’re rather more worried about the effect of the Club World Cup on their own products, and frustrated by the fiscal limitations of their competitions.

Tebas is the driving force behind La Liga games being played abroad, chiefly in the US, starting in the 2025/26 season. That’s an unnecessary flight and time away from home for the players purely to increase the stock of the Spanish league.

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It was Masters’ predecessor Richard Scudamore who pushed for a 39th Premier League game to take place in various cities around the world willing to pay a premium, and earlier this month Masters himself didn’t rule out resuscitating the plan – or something similar – on the back of FIFA establishing a working group to assess the implications of hosting competitive domestic matches in foreign countries. “It’s left the door ajar,” Masters said.

Neither the Premier League nor La Liga are about to create a new money-spinning summer competition like FIFA. What could they do? Have the same teams play a knockout competition? Guys, you’ve already got those. A five-a-side tournament?

It doesn’t work, but you can bet both Masters and Tebas would add something to the calendar to earn more cash if it made any sense at all, without – and this will always be the key for them – taking anything away from their 38-game (maybe 39-game?) league seasons.

Premier League managers have been perhaps the greatest proponents of a work-life balance for their footballers, hitting out at the Premier League, TV broadcasters or both for playing European games between inopportune domestic fixtures. But then the clubs that pay their wages schedule lengthy pre-season tours, and in the case of Newcastle and Tottenham a laughable post-season game, to boost their coffers.

We would love to be back up on our high horse throwing shade at FIFA and Infantino – it’s a comfortable place to be – but in doubting whether Masters and Tebas truly care about the wellbeing of footballers, we’re now wondering whether anyone other than the players’ unions care a jot.