/ 9 September 2009

Take2: How to win the Soccer World Cup

Let’s get the facts straight from the outset: certain nations will never win the Soccer World Cup — even if they were to host the tournament. There is no way Andorra, Cape Verde, Mozambique or Lesotho are going to win the World Cup. Or any other significant competition for that matter.

Strangely, that doesn’t stop some of these countries from having lofty ideals. You would think the minnows would be grateful for the privilege of playing against the big boys. In moments of outrage, some of these nations even fire their coaches for losing such matches. ”We in the federation are ashamed,” Sayan Khamitzhanov, the chief of Kazakhstan FA, once said. Yes, the same Kazakhstan that was virtually unknown until the movie Borat came along. Did Khamitzhanov really expect Kazakhstan to beat Ukraine or Croatia?

Egypt (82-million) and Nigeria (140-million) have the numbers and the talent to win the World Cup. Côte d’Ivoire (16-million) and Cameroon (18-million) could do so, too: they have the players, but with populations of less than 50-million, the odds are stacked against them. The World Cup is rarely won by a country with populations of less than 50-million. In the last 30-odd years, it’s only Argentina, with a population of about 40-million, who won the Cup — in 1978 and 1986. South Africa, with about 49-million people, could, but not with the kind of performances sometimes seen under Brazilian coach Joel Santana.

In a perverse sort of way, I like the Qatari model. They have long realised that the country’s odd million citizens won’t win them any tournament. So they go out, chequebook in hand, and buy Brazilians, Africans and whoever is greedy enough to play for them.

Journeyman French coach Philippe Troussier, former coach of Qatar, Nigeria and South Africa, said hiring foreign players was ”probably the only means to one day qualify Qatar for a World Cup. Naturalisations are nothing new to Qatar.”

That seems reasonable. How else are these small nations supposed to win the World Cup or any other tournament? What the Qataris have effectively done is adopt the club model, a model that really works. Why should people be punished for being born in a country in which people can’t be bothered about football? Look at Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs, from Wales, or even Liberia’s George Weah. Why pin brilliant players like these to nations in which they can never shine?

Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger has blamed the destruction of international football on the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia was once one country and now it has been divided into 21. And one of those countries is Kazakhstan. Yugoslavia was once one country, now it’s may more.

Hands up those who want to watch Lesotho play Mauritius. I would, on condition they adopt the Qatari model. In a negating, warped sort of way, the Qatari model recognises that international football should be about pitting the talents — on the field and off it — of the competing countries.

In the Qatari model no one pretends to be anything. They hire everyone — both foreign players and foreign coaches. Fifa has complained, but so what? The revolutionary Qataris are taking the unwieldy state of affairs to its logical conclusion. England, 1966 World Cup winners, have a foreign coach, Fabio Capello, and South Africa themselves have had a few since 1992.

If South Africa were to win the World Cup under Santana (stranger things have happened) wouldn’t it be a Brazilian victory? If England win, it’s an Italian victory. If Bafana — en route to the final — play Brazil (like they did in the Confederations Cup), which national anthem is Santana going to sing?

The Qatari model has its recommendations. Rugby has already taken to the model. The Boks have used a couple of Zimbabweans, the Australians have used one. There are no pretences in the model; it is marked with a naked mercenary attitude and ugly ambition, which is what football has become.

Football-challenged nations of the world, Botswana, Namibia, et al, let’s go for it. Sign that talented foreigner who can improve your team.