10 Sep 2021

All Whites legend: World Cup change 'amazing opportunity'

11:37 am on 10 September 2021

An All Whites legend is clear where he stands on a potential change capturing the attention of the football world.

Former All White Ryan Nelsen

Former All White Ryan Nelsen Photo: Photosport

Global governing body Fifa, via a project led by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wegner, were exploring the possibility of holding the World Cup every two years, instead of every four.

The latest step in the process was taking place in Qatar this week.

Famous former players and coaches had gathered alongside Wegner, Fifa's chief of global development, and Fifa president Gianni Infantino to further discuss the proposal as part of a refreshed international match calendar.

Among that group of stars, which included the likes of Brazilians Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos and Englishmen John Terry and Michael Owen, was New Zealand's Ryan Nelsen.

The former All Whites captain led the team to the 2010 World Cup, the second of just two appearances the country had made at the event.

The latter just one reason Nelsen was backing the idea to alter the cycle of the world's biggest sports tournament, with continental championships held in the 'in-between' years.

"Some will say it devalues it. But does it?" the veteran of almost a decade in the English Premier League told RNZ.

"The Champions League, NBA, Super Bowl are all every year and it doesn't devalue them.

"It's the greatest sporting event on earth ... [but] 90 per cent of the world's countries don't get to go to the World Cup.

"In a way it's actually too prestigious."

Fifa boss Gianni Infantino.


The most powerful person in the game was also keen to get the discussion moving.

Fifa president Infantino said the current match calendar had "reached some limits" and they hoped to finalise the process by the end of this year.

The whole concept, though, was being met with stiff resistance from one of the powerbases of the sport.

Many European administrators and fans had made their opposition clear and the president of the confederation's governing body UEFA, Aleksander Ceferin, had expressed "grave concerns".

But 166 of Fifa's 211 national associations weren't so dismissive, voting in May for the ongoing feasibility study to go ahead.

Nelsen said that was good news for the country he represented 49 times, which would benefit if the idea became reality.

"Imagine New Zealand potentially vying for a World Cup every two years … think what that does for the football community.

"What is also does is bring extra revenue that gets distributed around the world so all these countries can build better foundations and structure.

"New Zealand Football will be able to have better academies, the coaching will get better and it will bring everybody up.

"It's an amazing opportunity and what it might also do is change the whole sporting landscape. What does rugby do? What do all the other sports do?"

The World Cup trophy and the official ball for the 2018 World Cup in Moscow.

Football World Cup. Photo: Supplied: FIFA

Another key component to the proposal was eliminating many of the 'friendly' matches played between international teams.

Cricket had taken a similar approach with the introduction of the World Test Championship.

An avid Black Caps fan, Nelsen said he watched almost every ball of the team's journey to the inaugural title because of the extra emphasis the new competition had given the sport.

"All these rugby fans used to say to me 'you guys play friendlies, what are friendlies?'. And they're right, they're just part of filling the calendar.

"This way, you're just playing competitive qualifying games to get you to a big tournament happening every European summer.

"The meaningless friendly, where players have to fly all around the world … are fans really that interested?"

Nelsen urged football fans to look to the future as they considered the idea.

He said the World Cup had only been played every four years because organisers had copied the Olympic calendar, which was implemented when travelling across the world meant six months on a ship.

"The world is moving at quicker pace now. It's smaller.

"Just because it's happened for the last 50 years, doesn't mean it's right. We've got to be progressive enough to say 'OK, what is it going to look like in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years' time'.

"I love this type of thinking because it's looking to the future. It's not just saying we've done this before so it's fine, we'll keep doing it."

Former US women's coach Jill Ellis, who led the team to back-to-back World Cup titles, was leading a similar project looking at holding the women's tournament every two years.

Excluding 1942 and 1946 because of World War II, the men's World Cup had been a four-yearly tournament since the inaugural event in 1930.

The women's event began in 1991 and had also been held every four years since.