Qatar distracting focus from Russia 2018

No matter what your stance is on Qatar’s human rights record, the overriding sense of anger directed towards the 2022 FIFA world cup seems to be more about weather and timing than anything else. The furore surrounding the proposed season change is surely over the top when you consider this is a once in every four year event. Given that FIFA president Sepp Blatter has already stated the award of the 2022 tournament in Qatar may have been a mistake, a change in season is likely to be a one off rather than a precedent setter.

Whilst this country’s army of football fans, pundits and journalists alike find every reason imaginable to be upset about the award, some consideration must be taken into whether this anger is misdirected. Ok so the tournament would much more convenient for a whole host of nations if it was held in this country but that was never an option. England and the FA failed with their 2018 bid not a 2022 bid. Furthermore with such an enormous amount of time to prepare for the event surely any overriding worries can be put to bed with adequate planning and foresight from the Premier League and Football Association. There is even an argument to say that playing in the winter will offer England’s players the opportunity to play at their peak and before they are burnt out at the end of a long domestic campaign.

If misgivings about the competition being held in Qatar are morally or ethically based then that is an entirely different discussion and one that needs to be put on the back burner considering who is next to host the tournament. With focus on the international game being, up to this point, centred on 2022 it would appear that many have forgotten about 2018s hosts Russia. This is a country currently in a state of conflict, whose economics are far from stable and whose relationship with the west is at its lowest since the ‘Cold War’. Again many hold moral objections to Russia being selected as hosts. There is even a remote possibility of the tournament being boycotted by certain countries after calls to do so were heard from current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. Russian football is never too far away from controversy and Torpedo Moscow have just been ordered to play two games behind closed doors for racial abuse directed at Brazilian striker Hulk. This is just one incident in a long line of problems caused by racist chanting in Russian stadiums with neighbours CSKA Moscow’s conduct being called into question in 2013 when Yaya Toure suffered similar abuse in a Champions League tie. All of this will be worrying to many countries trying to qualify for 2018, none more so than the African nations.   

Whilst the England team, along with everyone else, are yet to qualify for the tournament in 2018 there are travel issues to consider. Here are some of the key issues highlighted by www.gov.uk:

To enter Russia you’ll need a visa before travel. During periods of high demand, you should apply for your visa well in advance. From 10 December 2014 Russian diplomatic missions and the visa application centres in London and Edinburgh will collect scanned fingerprints from visa applicants above the age of 12.

Overstaying your visa without authorisation from the Federal Migration Authorities can result in a delay to your departure from Russia, fines, court hearings and possible deportation and a ban from re-entry. If you’re staying for more than 7 working days you must register with the local branch of the Federal Migration Service.

All foreign nationals entering Russia must sign a migration card, which is produced electronically at passport control in the major airports. You should keep the other part with your passport; you will need it when you leave Russia and if you are stopped by the police for an ID check during your stay. There are many hotels and hostels that will not check in guests if they don’t have the stamped white immigration card with them. If you lose the second part of the card you will be fined.

So getting in and out of Russia is no simple task. Forget Qatar 2022, Russia 2018 is just three years away and provides more than enough food for thought for those thinking of going and television viewers alike.

Man City’s Premier League failings could damage Chelsea’s European campaign

After Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool on the weekend most pundits handed the Premier League crown to Jose Mourinho’s men. The transition of domestic power taking just six months from Eastlands to Stamford Bridge. Gary Lineker took to Twitter to congratulate Chelsea on a league and cup double as Chelsea beat Spurs at Wembley on the same day to lift the League Cup.

Whilst the news is all good for Chelsea and their fans on the domestic front, their superiority and dominance in the league won’t help them in Europe’s elite competition. Since nowadays you do not even have to be champions of your country to qualify for the Champions League the intensity and workload in the race to become Europe’s top dog has increased markedly. The top leagues in Europe are afforded four places and the Champions League in most people’s eyes is seen as setting the bar for the highest standards of football. An obvious example of a winner who didn’t win their domestic league is last year’s European champions Real Madrid who were seconds away from losing the final to La Liga Champs and city neighbours Atletico Madrid.

All of this is bad news for any side dominating their domestic league at any time and history backs this up. One of the few criticisms of Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United sides is that they won too few Champions League trophies. It is no coincidence then that their two triumphs under the Scot came in seasons where they were pushed all the way on the domestic front. In 99 United had to beat Spurs on the final day of the season to ensure victory over second place Arsenal and in 2008 they narrowly beat fellow Champions League finalists Chelsea to the Premier League crown.

The theory is then that when pushed hard domestically it is easier to transfer that intensity and form into European football. On the flip side to that, coasting to victory in the league means having to step up performances in the Champions League and this has rarely been possible. The theory is not nailed down to just English clubs. The same can be said of various sides across Europe and it must be pointed out that no side has ever retained the trophy up to this point.

It wasn’t so long ago that the footballing world was lauding all things German. Bayern Munich were champions in 2013 admittedly after a procession in the second half of the Bundesliga season. In the first half they were pushed hard by Dortmund who seemed to conserve energy in the latter parts of the season for their European exploits; A tactic that nearly paid off losing 2-1 to Bayern in that tight Wembley final.  The next season and Pep Guardiola came in and brought his brand of football to what was an already impressive side. The results were mixed though and whilst they continued to exert their huge dominance on the Bundesliga their European challenge faltered. They were soundly beaten by Real over two legs in the semi –final of the competition a result that is bound to have hurt former Barca man Guardiola.

It would seem that in order to win the Champions League a side must reach the peak of its powers in May a challenge that is made all the more difficult when strolling to league victory. Maintaining that peak is an even greater test but if anyone can become the first side to retain the trophy it’s European royalty Real Madrid.

Chelsea’s Champions League campaign is far from doomed but they will need to be pushed a little harder in what remains of the English season if they are to take Real’s crown in May.