ON THIS very weekend next year, we will be sitting down, ready to watch the 2018 World Cup Final.
Russia is the host nation, and for all the controversy that has surrounded them in the past four or five years, I’m sure they will provide excellent facilities for all the nations taking part.
Taking politics out of it and looking purely at the football, I’m confident they will put on a good spectacle and won’t let anyone down.
But I will be intrigued to see what kind of standard we will get on the pitch from the major countries such as Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, France, Belgium, Portugal and, indeed, England because I think the star players are in danger of being worn out.
The calendar is such that we now have football all year round. There is no escaping it.
From domestic football in the respective countries, to the Champions League and Europa League to the international games, it’s at saturation point.
FIFA and UEFA are going to the same well and asking the same players to perform on the big stages, time after time.
Take Ronaldo, for example. He played in the Champions League Final for Real Madrid on June 3 and then went off to play for Portugal in a World Cup qualifier a week later. He then turned out for his country in the Confederations Cup in Russia and that took him into July.
I don’t think that’s fair on the lad, but I have to give enormous credit to him for always making himself available. He is a credit to himself and his profession.
Overall, the demands on the players are huge, whether it be Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale, Thomas Muller, Gerard Pique, Neymar or Luis Suarez. They all need to be protected every now and again.
I think the hierarchy in our game need to look very closely at the calendar with a view to reducing the number of fixtures and making better use of the season.
For example, rather than having a qualification programme for the European Championships or World Cup spread over 14 or 15 months, why not find one whole month during that period and play the 10 qualifying matches then?
Whether it’s October or November or February or March, look at some alternatives to bring to the table.
That would immediately bring a halt to the stop-start footballing season every year when clubs play five or six games and then players go away for 10 days on international duty.
They can struggle to find momentum because of that.
It would also be better for the players. Take this season, for example, when many of the players in the Scotland squad were idle from the start of May until facing England at the start of June because the English Championship season had ended. That doesn’t do anyone any favours.
Also, having the players non-stop for four or five weeks would be better for an international manager, would it not?
Of course, there is no perfect solution and I realise the administrators in our game have difficult jobs trying to fit everything in and they never be able to please everybody.
But I sometimes think they need a wee nudge and to be reminded of looking at options.
I also think having the group games condensed would add to the excitement. Just now we have far too many live games on television, and to be honest I get a wee bit fed-up with that.
Of course, I’m happy to watch Scotland and I hope they can still qualify for the World Cup next year. They are still hanging on in there and 12 points from their next four games might well be enough for a play-off spot.
I’m still rooting for Gordon Strachan and the players. I’d love to see them there as we’ve been away for far too long.
England will qualify and they will travel to Russia expected to do well.
I think it’s fair to say that with the quality of player they have had over the past decade or so, they haven’t achieved as much as they should have in major tournaments.
I think Gareth Southgate and the players will put a high level of expectation on their own shoulders and I suppose you can never rule them out.
But I don’t think, even at this early stage, they are potential winners.