In the 134 years since league football began in England, European football has never scheduled such a disrupted season. (More football news)
FIFA’s decision to move the World Cup in Qatar from the normal off-season months to November and December to avoid the desert heat will affect the European domestic season in a way not seen outside of international trauma, such as war or pandemic.
As a result, the unusual 2022/23 European season had to start early, will be packed with more midweek games and with the Champions League final on the 10th of 1956.
It will also force domestic leagues into long interseason breaks, from six weeks in the English Premier League to a 10-week shutdown in the German Bundesliga and three months in Austria, where the World Cup extends the country’s usual winter break.
The compromise that European leagues and clubs were reluctant to accept in 2015 was the closure of peak business weeks. Then, inevitably, FIFA moved their marquee event from the usual June-July slot that is part of the global rhythm of football.
Here’s a look at the unprecedented 2022-23 season:
A UNIQUE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
During June, daytime temperatures in Doha routinely rose above 105 F (41 C) and rarely dropped below 85 F (30 C) at night.
For 32 teams, almost three million fans in the stadiums and the tens of thousands of staff, volunteers and media it takes to run a major tournament, it would have been a red-hot World Cup.
So the need to change the schedule was evident as early as 2010, when the FIFA Executive Committee (now widely discredited by corruption scandals) voted for Qatar to host the first World Cup in the Middle East.
Now, tournament temperatures should settle around 80-90 F (26-32 C) at game times, with no kick-off before 6pm when the third round of group matches begins on November 29.
Still, it’s a shorter World Cup, cramming 64 games in just 28 days, four days less than 2018.
That was forced upon FIFA by the European leagues, who refused to give up a valuable extra weekend in November.
Most European clubs play the weekend of November 12-13 just eight days before the start of the World Cup.
For this to work, the World Cup organizers had to schedule four instead of three games per day for the first two rounds of the group stage. This gives viewers a TV marathon and players the bare minimum of three days between games.
A team drawn into Group G or H at the World Cup – like Brazil and Portugal – needs to play seven games in just 25 days to win it all. Although at least they get extra days to prepare in the training camp.
The Netherlands open the tournament – against Senegal on November 21 – and set a tight schedule for their England-based players, like Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk.
And it comes after a compact Champions League schedule, with all six group rounds of the competition played between September 6 and November 2, to end the group stage five weeks earlier than usual.
The Global Players Union FIFPRO sees risks in these additional demands.
“The increased congestion on gaming equipment caused by the failure of the various competition organizers to work together appropriately is not helpful in protecting player health and performance,” FIFPRO said in a statement to the Associated Press.
The seasonal glut comes after the COVID-19 pandemic almost halted the 2019-20 campaign. It was saved by a two-game-a-week workload that’s now routine.
“The long streaks of back-to-back games prevalent among top-level players must be minimized and ultimately prevented,” said FIFPRO.
European football, still recovering from the pandemic, has lost high-quality trading weeks in November and December as a result of the postponement, with more games being played in the less lucrative summer months instead.
“Sales prices for pay-TV subscriptions are lower in the summer,” Jacco Swart, chief executive of the 30-nation European Leagues group, told AP. He also noted that August is the holiday season in much of southern Europe, so attendance at stadiums could be lower.
Serie A president Lorenzo Casini warned last month that an August 13 start would be difficult given the hot temperatures.
In Italy and Spain, top division games don’t start until September before 5pm. This precludes lunchtime kickoffs suitable for broadcasters in Asia.
Italy, like Austria and Turkey, have an additional problem of not having high-quality domestic matches to compensate for the lack of qualification for the World Cup.
Among the challenges are opportunities for leagues like England’s second tier Championship. It starts on December 10th with back-to-back weekends without any competition from Premier League games.