2022 World Cup Qatar

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Saudi Arabia Leaves Another Scar on Argentina’s Soul​

Argentina started as a favorite in the tournament as its star, Lionel Messi, looked for a final chance at the trophy. Now the team will struggle to advance.

By Rory Smith

LUSAIL, Qatar — This time was supposed to be different. For Lionel Messi, this time was not supposed to end like all of the others, with those slumping shoulders, that distant stare, that hollow grimace.

Qatar was not supposed to be as bad as what happened to arguably the greatest player of all time in the colors of Barcelona on those nights in Rome and Liverpool and Lisbon, let alone in the albiceleste of Argentina in Rio de Janeiro. And, in a way, it wasn’t. It was worse.

Argentina arrived in Qatar with the sole ambition of ensuring that Messi’s final World Cup would be remembered as the one that bathed his legacy in the brilliant, golden glow only this tournament, this ultimate triumph, can confer.

Instead, it must now face the haunting possibility that it will forever be synonymous with one of its darkest humiliations, one of the greatest upsets in the World Cup’s history.

For Argentina, losing to Saudi Arabia, 2-1, was not just a defeat; it was an embarrassment, an ignominy, a stigma scarred into Argentine skin in front of 88,000 people, streamed live on television and beamed around the world. By the end, as the delirious Saudi substitutes swarmed onto the field, Argentina’s players seemed visibly diminished, their faces drawn, their eyes haunted.

None more so, of course, than Messi. He has worn that look more than he would like in recent years. It has become more familiar than might be expected for a player of his status, his legend.

The sunset of the most glittering career of all has been picked out, in no small part, in shadow: those traumatic defeats in his final years with Barcelona against Roma and Liverpool and Bayern Munich, the dreaded inevitability of disappointment snatched from the jaws of glory with Paris St.-Germain against Real Madrid earlier this year.

And after each of them, that same dispirited silhouette — hands on hips, head bowed, eyes downcast as he walks slowly off the field — that he cut when the whistle blew at Lusail, the stadium that will host the final of Messi’s final World Cup next month. Argentina’s nightmare became flesh.

If anything, the pain of this will sting more than any of the others. Not just because of the opponent: an unheralded and unfancied Saudi team that had been cast as little more than a sacrificial lamb, advised before the tournament to focus more on “enjoying themselves” than winning by no less than their kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, not a man who seems like the sort to believe that it’s really the taking part that counts.

The real difference, though, was Argentina itself. For the first time in years, the country had somehow concocted a national team that was not entangled in an intricate web of neuroses and complexes. Under Lionel Scaloni, the low-key coach who had initially taken the job on a temporary basis and proved surprisingly good at it, Argentina had fostered a system designed to provide an older Messi with the support he needed.

Since 2019, it had played 35 games and not lost any of them. More important, it had ended its generation-long wait for an international honor, capturing its first Copa América title since 1993 in the most satisfying way imaginable: by beating Brazil, in Brazil. It had followed that up by dismantling the European champion, Italy, in a game marketed as the Finalissima.

Argentina had the finest player on the planet — possibly the finest of all time — in a rich vein of form, a supremely gifted supporting cast and a vast army of fans at its back. The streets of Doha thronged with albiceleste jerseys and banners and flags. All of that has been the case for at least three World Cups, of course. The difference, this time, was that the team looked self-confident, assured, something close to serene.

It took no more than five minutes to break all of that apart. Argentina had dominated the first half, taking the lead through a penalty won, a little fortuitously, by Leandro Paredes and converted, with precious little ceremony, by Messi. That was as far as its good fortune ran — a further three goals were ruled out for offside, at least one of them extremely narrowly — but as the teams headed inside at the break, there seemed scant cause for concern.

Perhaps complacency explains what happened next: Argentina dozing as Saleh al-Shehri clipped home an equalizer, and then watching on powerlessly as Salem al-Dawsari danced through three challenges and curled a shot, its parabola picture-perfect, beyond the clawing grasp of Emiliano Martínez.

Saudi Arabia’s fans, bused in by the thousand from the border 90 miles away, roared; Argentina’s stood, shellshocked, the ghost of defeat to Cameroon in Milan in 1990 at their shoulder. The players, too, seemed unable to respond; this is not a team that has, in recent years, had much experience in recovering from setbacks.

And so, instead of keeping a cool head, slowly turning the screw on their tiring opponents, Argentina’s players fretted and frazzled and chased and hurried. There is a fine line between urgent and frantic, and Messi and his teammates fell firmly on the wrong side of it.

With half an hour to create a single chance for some of the finest forwards on the planet, Argentina generated nothing. Even Messi, a being seemingly hewed from pure, uncut poise, seemed afflicted, rushing his passes, missing his beats, fading from the game as the clock ticked rather than bending it to his will. Perhaps, by now, he has suffered these indignities enough to sense when one is coming. Perhaps he is in tune with the cruelty of fate.

All is not yet lost, of course. Argentina still has two games to avert disaster, to spare its blushes. Beat Mexico and Poland in the remaining two group games and, on the surface, losing to Saudi Arabia will have done no lasting damage. That defeat to Cameroon in 1990, after all, did not prevent Diego Maradona from leading his team all the way to the World Cup final. This is not the end of Messi’s tournament. It may be nothing more than a false start.

In the moment, as Messi and his teammates gathered in a tight bunch in the middle of the field, as if huddling together for safety and for security and warmth, it did not feel like that. Instead, it seemed as if something had come undone in the white heat of Lusail’s afternoon sun. This time was supposed to be different. All of a sudden, for Messi and for Argentina, it all felt exactly the same.
 

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‘He sold himself to the devil’ – Messi, 2030, and a very uncomfortable deal with Saudi Arabia​

Adam Crafton
Nov 22, 2022

Argentina versus Saudi Arabia at the World Cup in Qatar. A battle for early supremacy in Group C, yes, but also the prelude to a battle off the field that will take place in the coming years.

The 2026 World Cup will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico but bidding for the 2030 edition opened in June this year with the eventual winner to be selected at the 74th FIFA congress in 2024.

The only confirmed bid so far is a joint initiative by Spain, Portugal and Ukraine, which was announced earlier this year. However, two rival proposals are due to be formally launched.

One will be a South American co-production comprised of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. The other will be a combined effort by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece. The use of multiple countries within bids is explained by the fact the World Cup finals will become a 48-team competition from 2026.

“A South American bid for 2030 is very strong,” its co-ordinator Fernando Marin told The Athletic. “The region is a generator of talent that expresses itself all over the world. Additionally, on the 100th anniversary of the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, it would be a fitting location.”

In 1930, hosts Uruguay won the tournament, beating Argentina 4-2 in the final.

The South American joint bid was first publicised in 2017, when then Barcelona team-mates Luis Suarez (Uruguay) and Lionel Messi (Argentina) teamed up to promote their countries. Before a match between the two nations, Suarez wore a Uruguay kit with the No 20 on his jersey and Messi wore Argentina’s with the No 30.

Marin told news agency AFP the following year: “Messi will join us in this initiative, and Suarez certainly. We told him (Messi) about our aims, and he feels it’s doable. He showed great desire to help us. He will surely be the flag-bearer for the World Cup.”

This May, however, a fresh development arose when Messi, arguably the greatest and most famous footballer on the planet, signed a lucrative agreement to promote the state of Saudi Arabia.

The first thing to say is that the agreement is to promote tourism in that country, rather than a 2030 World Cup bid itself.

However, the national objective of Saudi Arabia is tied around “Vision 2030”. This is described by government literature as “a unique transformative economic and social reform blueprint that is opening Saudi Arabia up to the world”.

A World Cup bid for 2030, therefore, seems heavily linked to the overall vision and promoting tourism does much to aid that cause. Other examples include the state’s sovereign wealth fund PIF deciding to acquire the English Premier League club Newcastle United, as well as backing the LIV Golf breakaway tour, plus a 10-year, $650million deal to host Formula One races and stage the 2019 heavyweight boxing clash between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Dennis Horak, the Canadian ambassador to Saudi between 2015 and 2018, explains to The Athletic: “The whole opening of the entertainment and sports sphere is a big part of Vision 2030. With the LIV Golf (funded by Saudi Arabia) and now with these sorts of high-level sponsorships such as Messi, they’re trying to take it to another level and make it more global. Saudi’s reputation globally needs a sprucing up and it is about trying to rebrand the country.”

The length and terms of Messi’s agreement has not been publicised.

The Daily Telegraph previously reported Cristiano Ronaldo rejected an offer worth more than £5million per year to promote Saudi tourism and sources close to the negotiations, who wished not to be named to protect business relationships, confirmed Ronaldo had turned down an approach.

However, multiple sources familiar with the workings of ambassadorial roles in the Gulf region, who wished not to be named to prevent repercussions, suggested to The Athletic that Messi’s deal may be worth as much as five times more than the annual fee apparently offered to Ronaldo.

This becomes more credible when we consider the kinds of figures Saudi agencies have poured into the LIV Golf tour, for example, where Tiger Woods turned down a figure reported to be worth $700m-$800m to join the breakaway movement.

Representatives for Messi said they could not clarify the figures involved owing to the terms of confidentiality in the agreement, while the Saudi government did not respond to emails from The Athletic.

The Saudis first promoted the Argentinian as their tourism ambassador for the country during a trip to Jeddah, a resort city by the Red Sea, in May.

“This is not his first visit to the kingdom and it will not be the last,” said Ahmed al-Khateeb, the Saudi minister of tourism, in a tweet that showed Messi’s welcome at King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Messi later published a picture of himself on a yacht while watching the Saudi sunset.

“Discovering the Red Sea #VisitSaudi,” read the caption on Instagram, where Messi has over 370 million followers. The post was labelled as a “paid partnership” with Visit Saudi, which is a subsidiary company of the Saudi Tourism Authority.

Messi later joined Princess Haifa Al-Saud, assistant minister of tourism, on a tour of old Jeddah.

“I am glad that he was mesmerized by its essence, heritage and beauty,” Princess Haifa said on Twitter.

The Visit Saudi website now has a Messi landing page, “Lionel Messi wants you to unleash your inner thrill-seeker and uncover the unimagined. Whether you travel to discover new things, old things, or just to awaken something new inside yourself, Saudi satisfies on all fronts. So what are you waiting for? Plan your adventure now!”.

Messi’s support team declined to comment on whether his position promoting Saudi may conflict with his own country’s attempts to stage a World Cup in 2030, just as they declined to comment on how many times he will visit Saudi as part of his agreement to promote tourism.

More significantly, they declined to comment on Messi’s preparedness to take a vast cheque from a state which has been linked to human rights abuses including the assassination of the dissident Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as crackdowns on women’s rights activists, LGBT people and those who speak out against the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

In 2021, the humanitarian organisation UNICEF reported that more than 10,000 children had been killed since a Saudi-led coalition’s involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Yemen. Messi remains a “Goodwill Ambassador” for UNICEF, a position he has held since 2010.

Messi’s representatives declined to comment on this apparent conflict, while UNICEF did not respond.

For Messi, it is one of countless partnerships for a player who earns in excess of €30million net to play for French champions Paris Saint-Germain, a club owned by a fund linked to the Qatari state, which has been accused of human rights abuses of its own.

In recent times, Messi has signed a $20million deal to promote the crypto fan token firm Socios, while he is also a face of the NFT-based game Sorare. He has also agreed sponsorship deals with Adidas, Pepsi, Budweiser, Ooredoo, Pro Evolution Soccer, Louis Vuitton, the Israeli company Orcam, the Dubai Expo 2020, his own Cirque du Soleil show and the Chinese dairy company Mengniu.

In May, business website Forbes estimated Messi had earned more than $120million during the previous year.

Khalid Al-Jabri is a Saudi whose siblings Sarah and Omar are currently locked up in a jail there.

In a prior interview with The Athletic, he alleged that his two siblings are being used as “bargaining chips” to put pressure on their father, Dr Saad Aljabri, who is a former leading intelligence officer in Saudi Arabia.

He says: “MBS is attempting to normalise the country and Messi’s ambassadorial role contributes to that.

“When I was at medical school, we used to gather together to watch him. So not only does he speak to the globe but internally everyone loves him, he’s next to god in footballing terms. With this deal, they hit the jackpot.”

In 2012, Messi visited Saudi Arabia for the first time.

When his flight landed, the fanfare and security escort was so intense that the armed guards shepherding him through the crowds accidentally pointed the barrel of a gun towards Messi’s face.

Since then, the relationship has grown more cosy, and much of this is down to a curious figure named Turki Al-Sheikh.

Al-Sheikh is the chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, which aims to promote social and economic growth in the country.

In May 2020, Messi, sent a good luck message online to Al-Sheikh, who is a prominent Saudi politician and also the owner of Spanish La Liga football club Almeria.

The occasion was Al-Sheikh competing in a charity PlayStation football match against Saud Al-Suwailem, the former president of Saudi football club Al-Nasr FC.

Messi was among a cast of high-profile names, along with Diego Maradona, former Brazil stars Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho, the Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci and the former Dutch international Patrick Kluivert, who sent messages publicising a game that aimed to raise funds for those in need in Saudi Arabia. Famous actors such as Charlie Sheen also sent messages, as well as the rapper Snoop Dogg.

When you see this video, Al-Sheikh may appear to be an overgrown child as he throws a joystick at the television, but he is, according to many observers of Saudi Arabia, one of the most powerful men in the kingdom.

Take, for example, the account of Khashoggi, the dissident brutally assassinated in Istanbul in 2018. According to a US intelligence report, MBS is deemed responsible for approving the operation that killed Khashoggi. Bin Salman describes the findings as flawed.

In a Newsweek interview recorded before his death but published after his passing, Khashoggi said that MBS “does not have political advisors except Turki al-Sheikh and Saud al-Qahtani”. He added: “They are very thuggish. People fear them. Turki al-Sheikh is in charge of sport, and it is rumoured he has a few billions at his disposal to spend on sport and keep young people busy.”

Al-Qahtani ran media operations and propaganda for MBS and US intelligence reports previously linked him to the plot which saw Khashoggi murdered. A Saudi court cleared Al-Qahtani of charges in 2019.

Al-Sheikh, meanwhile, is a former security guard for MBS who became so friendly with the Crown Prince that he was allowed to run the Saudi Sports Commission. The New York Times has previously reported that Al-Sheikh played a “key role” when MBS detained hundreds of the wealthiest businessmen in Saudi Arabia in a Ritz-Carlton hotel in interrogations that were framed as an attempt to rein in corruption.

While running the Saudi Sports Commission, Al-Sheikh became a key interlocutor for those who wished to cash in on the money available in Saudi. He was responsible for organising a fixture between Brazil and Argentina there in 2019, where his football club, Almeria, published a social media clip of Messi and Al-Sheikh hugging in the tunnel before the match with the caption “two lions”.

Messi also publicly wished Al-Sheikh happy birthday for his 40th, and he has previously visited the politician’s home in Riyadh with other Argentina players.

As part of his role as the chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, Al-Sheikh also secured Messi to advertise Riyadh Season for 2022 (an entertainment festival) on billboards which popped up in London, Dubai and Newcastle. A further video of Messi promoting Riyadh season in a PSG jersey also emerged.

It is particularly interesting as, for a long time, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar (the nation linked to PSG) had been tense owing to a blockade of Qatar by its neighbours. Al-Sheikh was at the heart of the attacks on Qatar, as he even suggested on Twitter on one occasion this year’s World Cup should be relocated to England or the USA if host Qatar was found guilty of ethical violations.

Yet Messi’s contract at PSG allows him to agree whatever commercial agreements he likes and the past year has seen a thaw in relations between Saudi and Qatar, to the extent that MBS and the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, sat either side of FIFA president Gianni Infantino during the opening match of the World Cup on Sunday, before being spotted walking arm-in-arm through the stadium.

Horak, the former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was expelled from the country in 2018 in response to Canadian statements in defence of human rights activists detained in the kingdom. He is balanced in his assessment, explaining that Western politicians garnered hope when MBS first sought to drive through reforms in the entertainment sphere but the killing of Khashoggi, combined with crackdowns on women’s rights activists, turned international opinion against the regime.

He says of Al-Sheikh: “I heard of his reputation and he was very much considered amongst that inner circle and MBS at the Royal Court, for sure. He’s certainly connected and getting Messi on board, I’m sure MBS would certainly love it. It would be another symbol of where we (Saudi Arabia) are in the world, in his eyes. We’re not in this isolated desert kingdom anymore. Given the profile he has internationally, it gives a greater sense of normality to (Saudi), so I think this would be seen as helping their bid (for the 2030 World Cup).

“The MBS brand has been probably irreparably damaged by the Khashoggi killing. And, you know, Saudi Arabia’s brand was certainly tarnished by it. And the more you can cozy up, either directly or indirectly, to world celebrities and then can burnish the brand of Saudi Arabia accordingly, I think he thinks will reflect well on (Al-Sheikh) as well.”

Khalid Al-Jabri, whose brother and sister remain jailed, told The Athletic: “I don’t mind players such as Messi going to play in Saudi as part of a team, because I don’t think Saudi fans should be deprived of that opportunity just because of atrocities committed by those who govern the country. What I have a problem with is Messi the individual making himself a tool for Saudi sportswashing.

“He sold himself to the devil.”

On Monday evening in Doha, Messi was selected for the pre-match press conference ahead of the opening Group C match today (Tuesday) between the country he represents on the pitch and the state that uses his image off it.

On television screens in the city, adverts of Messi promoting trips to Saudi Arabia are now broadcast on Qatari television.

At that press conference, his arrival was greeted by oohs, aahs, gasps and a flurry of camera phones clicking, while he was clapped out of the room by some of the journalists present.

The Athletic was not afforded a question in what was a busy media session but suffice to say Messi took more than a dozen questions and not one from the South American or Arabian media centred on his deal to promote Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi hopes were raised once more on Sunday evening when MBS sat beside Infantino at this World Cup’s first match, while the pair were also seen socialising together in Bali at the G20 summit last week. They have also watched boxing matches together previously.

Sources close to the Saudi state, who wished not to be named to protect business relationships, sense a growing confidence that their 2030 World Cup bid will be the preferred option, with a joint bid alongside Egypt and Greece likely to deflect the scrutiny that would come with a solo bid. The Saudis have also submitted a bid to host the 2030 World Expo, further underlining their desire to make Vision 2030 the culmination of their grand plan.

In conversations with prominent Argentine figures, the unease about criticising Messi, even mildy, shines through. Asked if it appears strange that Messi is helping to heal the image of a rival for the right to host the 2030 World Cup, his former international team-mate Maxi Rodriguez said: “Yes, honestly, but well… you don’t know what could end up happening. You want the World Cup to be in your backyard. But there’s a lot that has to get done because it’s not easy to be the host of a World Cup. We’ll see what happens when the host for the tournament is elected. As an Argentine we’d like to experience it again in our country.”

Fernando Marin, co-ordinator of the South American joint bid involving Argentina, said: “Messi has a unique power on and off the field. He has grown in a superlative way. Messi is a brand in himself and a very powerful one. He is a brand for all of football, not for states. He will be a fundamental piece of a South American bid for 2030.”

He appears, too, to be a fundamental piece of their rivals’ ambitions for 2030.
 

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‘He sold himself to the devil’ – Messi, 2030, and a very uncomfortable deal with Saudi Arabia​

Adam Crafton
Nov 22, 2022

Argentina versus Saudi Arabia at the World Cup in Qatar. A battle for early supremacy in Group C, yes, but also the prelude to a battle off the field that will take place in the coming years.

The 2026 World Cup will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico but bidding for the 2030 edition opened in June this year with the eventual winner to be selected at the 74th FIFA congress in 2024.

The only confirmed bid so far is a joint initiative by Spain, Portugal and Ukraine, which was announced earlier this year. However, two rival proposals are due to be formally launched.

One will be a South American co-production comprised of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. The other will be a combined effort by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece. The use of multiple countries within bids is explained by the fact the World Cup finals will become a 48-team competition from 2026.

“A South American bid for 2030 is very strong,” its co-ordinator Fernando Marin told The Athletic. “The region is a generator of talent that expresses itself all over the world. Additionally, on the 100th anniversary of the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, it would be a fitting location.”

In 1930, hosts Uruguay won the tournament, beating Argentina 4-2 in the final.

The South American joint bid was first publicised in 2017, when then Barcelona team-mates Luis Suarez (Uruguay) and Lionel Messi (Argentina) teamed up to promote their countries. Before a match between the two nations, Suarez wore a Uruguay kit with the No 20 on his jersey and Messi wore Argentina’s with the No 30.

Marin told news agency AFP the following year: “Messi will join us in this initiative, and Suarez certainly. We told him (Messi) about our aims, and he feels it’s doable. He showed great desire to help us. He will surely be the flag-bearer for the World Cup.”

This May, however, a fresh development arose when Messi, arguably the greatest and most famous footballer on the planet, signed a lucrative agreement to promote the state of Saudi Arabia.

The first thing to say is that the agreement is to promote tourism in that country, rather than a 2030 World Cup bid itself.

However, the national objective of Saudi Arabia is tied around “Vision 2030”. This is described by government literature as “a unique transformative economic and social reform blueprint that is opening Saudi Arabia up to the world”.

A World Cup bid for 2030, therefore, seems heavily linked to the overall vision and promoting tourism does much to aid that cause. Other examples include the state’s sovereign wealth fund PIF deciding to acquire the English Premier League club Newcastle United, as well as backing the LIV Golf breakaway tour, plus a 10-year, $650million deal to host Formula One races and stage the 2019 heavyweight boxing clash between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Dennis Horak, the Canadian ambassador to Saudi between 2015 and 2018, explains to The Athletic: “The whole opening of the entertainment and sports sphere is a big part of Vision 2030. With the LIV Golf (funded by Saudi Arabia) and now with these sorts of high-level sponsorships such as Messi, they’re trying to take it to another level and make it more global. Saudi’s reputation globally needs a sprucing up and it is about trying to rebrand the country.”

The length and terms of Messi’s agreement has not been publicised.

The Daily Telegraph previously reported Cristiano Ronaldo rejected an offer worth more than £5million per year to promote Saudi tourism and sources close to the negotiations, who wished not to be named to protect business relationships, confirmed Ronaldo had turned down an approach.

However, multiple sources familiar with the workings of ambassadorial roles in the Gulf region, who wished not to be named to prevent repercussions, suggested to The Athletic that Messi’s deal may be worth as much as five times more than the annual fee apparently offered to Ronaldo.

This becomes more credible when we consider the kinds of figures Saudi agencies have poured into the LIV Golf tour, for example, where Tiger Woods turned down a figure reported to be worth $700m-$800m to join the breakaway movement.

Representatives for Messi said they could not clarify the figures involved owing to the terms of confidentiality in the agreement, while the Saudi government did not respond to emails from The Athletic.

The Saudis first promoted the Argentinian as their tourism ambassador for the country during a trip to Jeddah, a resort city by the Red Sea, in May.

“This is not his first visit to the kingdom and it will not be the last,” said Ahmed al-Khateeb, the Saudi minister of tourism, in a tweet that showed Messi’s welcome at King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Messi later published a picture of himself on a yacht while watching the Saudi sunset.

“Discovering the Red Sea #VisitSaudi,” read the caption on Instagram, where Messi has over 370 million followers. The post was labelled as a “paid partnership” with Visit Saudi, which is a subsidiary company of the Saudi Tourism Authority.

Messi later joined Princess Haifa Al-Saud, assistant minister of tourism, on a tour of old Jeddah.

“I am glad that he was mesmerized by its essence, heritage and beauty,” Princess Haifa said on Twitter.

The Visit Saudi website now has a Messi landing page, “Lionel Messi wants you to unleash your inner thrill-seeker and uncover the unimagined. Whether you travel to discover new things, old things, or just to awaken something new inside yourself, Saudi satisfies on all fronts. So what are you waiting for? Plan your adventure now!”.

Messi’s support team declined to comment on whether his position promoting Saudi may conflict with his own country’s attempts to stage a World Cup in 2030, just as they declined to comment on how many times he will visit Saudi as part of his agreement to promote tourism.

More significantly, they declined to comment on Messi’s preparedness to take a vast cheque from a state which has been linked to human rights abuses including the assassination of the dissident Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as crackdowns on women’s rights activists, LGBT people and those who speak out against the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

In 2021, the humanitarian organisation UNICEF reported that more than 10,000 children had been killed since a Saudi-led coalition’s involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Yemen. Messi remains a “Goodwill Ambassador” for UNICEF, a position he has held since 2010.

Messi’s representatives declined to comment on this apparent conflict, while UNICEF did not respond.

For Messi, it is one of countless partnerships for a player who earns in excess of €30million net to play for French champions Paris Saint-Germain, a club owned by a fund linked to the Qatari state, which has been accused of human rights abuses of its own.

In recent times, Messi has signed a $20million deal to promote the crypto fan token firm Socios, while he is also a face of the NFT-based game Sorare. He has also agreed sponsorship deals with Adidas, Pepsi, Budweiser, Ooredoo, Pro Evolution Soccer, Louis Vuitton, the Israeli company Orcam, the Dubai Expo 2020, his own Cirque du Soleil show and the Chinese dairy company Mengniu.

In May, business website Forbes estimated Messi had earned more than $120million during the previous year.

Khalid Al-Jabri is a Saudi whose siblings Sarah and Omar are currently locked up in a jail there.

In a prior interview with The Athletic, he alleged that his two siblings are being used as “bargaining chips” to put pressure on their father, Dr Saad Aljabri, who is a former leading intelligence officer in Saudi Arabia.

He says: “MBS is attempting to normalise the country and Messi’s ambassadorial role contributes to that.

“When I was at medical school, we used to gather together to watch him. So not only does he speak to the globe but internally everyone loves him, he’s next to god in footballing terms. With this deal, they hit the jackpot.”

In 2012, Messi visited Saudi Arabia for the first time.

When his flight landed, the fanfare and security escort was so intense that the armed guards shepherding him through the crowds accidentally pointed the barrel of a gun towards Messi’s face.

Since then, the relationship has grown more cosy, and much of this is down to a curious figure named Turki Al-Sheikh.

Al-Sheikh is the chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, which aims to promote social and economic growth in the country.

In May 2020, Messi, sent a good luck message online to Al-Sheikh, who is a prominent Saudi politician and also the owner of Spanish La Liga football club Almeria.

The occasion was Al-Sheikh competing in a charity PlayStation football match against Saud Al-Suwailem, the former president of Saudi football club Al-Nasr FC.

Messi was among a cast of high-profile names, along with Diego Maradona, former Brazil stars Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho, the Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci and the former Dutch international Patrick Kluivert, who sent messages publicising a game that aimed to raise funds for those in need in Saudi Arabia. Famous actors such as Charlie Sheen also sent messages, as well as the rapper Snoop Dogg.

When you see this video, Al-Sheikh may appear to be an overgrown child as he throws a joystick at the television, but he is, according to many observers of Saudi Arabia, one of the most powerful men in the kingdom.
Take, for example, the account of Khashoggi, the dissident brutally assassinated in Istanbul in 2018. According to a US intelligence report, MBS is deemed responsible for approving the operation that killed Khashoggi. Bin Salman describes the findings as flawed.
In a Newsweek interview recorded before his death but published after his passing, Khashoggi said that MBS “does not have political advisors except Turki al-Sheikh and Saud al-Qahtani”. He added: “They are very thuggish. People fear them. Turki al-Sheikh is in charge of sport, and it is rumoured he has a few billions at his disposal to spend on sport and keep young people busy.”
Al-Qahtani ran media operations and propaganda for MBS and US intelligence reports previously linked him to the plot which saw Khashoggi murdered. A Saudi court cleared Al-Qahtani of charges in 2019.
Al-Sheikh, meanwhile, is a former security guard for MBS who became so friendly with the Crown Prince that he was allowed to run the Saudi Sports Commission. The New York Times has previously reported that Al-Sheikh played a “key role” when MBS detained hundreds of the wealthiest businessmen in Saudi Arabia in a Ritz-Carlton hotel in interrogations that were framed as an attempt to rein in corruption.
While running the Saudi Sports Commission, Al-Sheikh became a key interlocutor for those who wished to cash in on the money available in Saudi. He was responsible for organising a fixture between Brazil and Argentina there in 2019, where his football club, Almeria, published a social media clip of Messi and Al-Sheikh hugging in the tunnel before the match with the caption “two lions”.

Messi also publicly wished Al-Sheikh happy birthday for his 40th, and he has previously visited the politician’s home in Riyadh with other Argentina players.

As part of his role as the chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, Al-Sheikh also secured Messi to advertise Riyadh Season for 2022 (an entertainment festival) on billboards which popped up in London, Dubai and Newcastle. A further video of Messi promoting Riyadh season in a PSG jersey also emerged.

It is particularly interesting as, for a long time, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar (the nation linked to PSG) had been tense owing to a blockade of Qatar by its neighbours. Al-Sheikh was at the heart of the attacks on Qatar, as he even suggested on Twitter on one occasion this year’s World Cup should be relocated to England or the USA if host Qatar was found guilty of ethical violations.

Yet Messi’s contract at PSG allows him to agree whatever commercial agreements he likes and the past year has seen a thaw in relations between Saudi and Qatar, to the extent that MBS and the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, sat either side of FIFA president Gianni Infantino during the opening match of the World Cup on Sunday, before being spotted walking arm-in-arm through the stadium.

Horak, the former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was expelled from the country in 2018 in response to Canadian statements in defence of human rights activists detained in the kingdom. He is balanced in his assessment, explaining that Western politicians garnered hope when MBS first sought to drive through reforms in the entertainment sphere but the killing of Khashoggi, combined with crackdowns on women’s rights activists, turned international opinion against the regime.

He says of Al-Sheikh: “I heard of his reputation and he was very much considered amongst that inner circle and MBS at the Royal Court, for sure. He’s certainly connected and getting Messi on board, I’m sure MBS would certainly love it. It would be another symbol of where we (Saudi Arabia) are in the world, in his eyes. We’re not in this isolated desert kingdom anymore. Given the profile he has internationally, it gives a greater sense of normality to (Saudi), so I think this would be seen as helping their bid (for the 2030 World Cup).

“The MBS brand has been probably irreparably damaged by the Khashoggi killing. And, you know, Saudi Arabia’s brand was certainly tarnished by it. And the more you can cozy up, either directly or indirectly, to world celebrities and then can burnish the brand of Saudi Arabia accordingly, I think he thinks will reflect well on (Al-Sheikh) as well.”

Khalid Al-Jabri, whose brother and sister remain jailed, told The Athletic: “I don’t mind players such as Messi going to play in Saudi as part of a team, because I don’t think Saudi fans should be deprived of that opportunity just because of atrocities committed by those who govern the country. What I have a problem with is Messi the individual making himself a tool for Saudi sportswashing.

“He sold himself to the devil.”

On Monday evening in Doha, Messi was selected for the pre-match press conference ahead of the opening Group C match today (Tuesday) between the country he represents on the pitch and the state that uses his image off it.

On television screens in the city, adverts of Messi promoting trips to Saudi Arabia are now broadcast on Qatari television.

At that press conference, his arrival was greeted by oohs, aahs, gasps and a flurry of camera phones clicking, while he was clapped out of the room by some of the journalists present.

The Athletic was not afforded a question in what was a busy media session but suffice to say Messi took more than a dozen questions and not one from the South American or Arabian media centred on his deal to promote Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi hopes were raised once more on Sunday evening when MBS sat beside Infantino at this World Cup’s first match, while the pair were also seen socialising together in Bali at the G20 summit last week. They have also watched boxing matches together previously.

Sources close to the Saudi state, who wished not to be named to protect business relationships, sense a growing confidence that their 2030 World Cup bid will be the preferred option, with a joint bid alongside Egypt and Greece likely to deflect the scrutiny that would come with a solo bid. The Saudis have also submitted a bid to host the 2030 World Expo, further underlining their desire to make Vision 2030 the culmination of their grand plan.

In conversations with prominent Argentine figures, the unease about criticising Messi, even mildy, shines through. Asked if it appears strange that Messi is helping to heal the image of a rival for the right to host the 2030 World Cup, his former international team-mate Maxi Rodriguez said: “Yes, honestly, but well… you don’t know what could end up happening. You want the World Cup to be in your backyard. But there’s a lot that has to get done because it’s not easy to be the host of a World Cup. We’ll see what happens when the host for the tournament is elected. As an Argentine we’d like to experience it again in our country.”

Fernando Marin, co-ordinator of the South American joint bid involving Argentina, said: “Messi has a unique power on and off the field. He has grown in a superlative way. Messi is a brand in himself and a very powerful one. He is a brand for all of football, not for states. He will be a fundamental piece of a South American bid for 2030.”

He appears, too, to be a fundamental piece of their rivals’ ambitions for 2030.
try sea (southeast asia) countries as fifa world cup's host. looks entertaining!
 

Puma

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Argentina are shit. They will be fortunate to make it to the quarter-finals.
 

wera

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Morocco was REALLY good against Croatia. Full of energy. Top lads.
 

pupivn

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Argentina are shit. They will be fortunate to make it to the quarter-finals.
Still skeptical about them. It’s tournament, reaching knockout stages and then it truly starts.
And if they are 2nd in the group, they are in different branch going to final with Brasil, hence my question.
 

Besnik

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Usually these first matches could always come up with surprises, so it's not a big deal. I actually think, Argentina's defeat will wake them up and realize that unless you get your shit together, you aren't going anywhere. Besides, it's better to make a false step in the beginning and eventually bounce back, than fail when it matters the most.
 

Stefan

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Morocco was REALLY good against Croatia. Full of energy. Top lads.
They were good till they got to the box. No final ball. Looked toothless.
 

brehme1989

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Comparing the first post-Bosman World Cup (1998) squads, the first enhanced EU environment World Cup (2006) and this one (2022).
Reminder that squads had 22 players in 1998, 23 players in 2006 and 26 players in 2022.
And another reminder that the EU member-states at the time were 15, before jumping to 25 in the summer of 2004, so World Cup 2006 is also considered here as it changed the landscape by the addition of Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia amongst others that tend to have several good players that European teams buy.

Here are some interesting numbers:
a)
4/32 teams in 1998 had players who were all playing domestically (England, Spain, Japan, Saudi Arabia)
In 2006, that number is 2/32 (Italy and Saudi Arabia)
In 2022 that number is 2/32. (Qatar and Saudi Arabia)

b)
1/32 teams had no players from their own league system in 1998 (Nigeria)
1/32 teams had no players from their own league system in 2006 (Ivory Coast)
3/32 teams have no players from their own league systems in 2022 (Senegal, Canada, Wales)

Canada has 10 players on Canadian teams but they do not play in their league system.
Wales (or Cymru) has 4 players on Welsh teams participating in the English league system.

c)
Average number of players from own league system
1998: 12.47 out of 22 (or 56.7%) // 399 players out of 704 selected
2006: 10.69 out of 23 (or 46.5%) // 342 players out of 736 selected
2022: 8.37 out of 26 (or 32.2%) // 268 players out of 832 selected


d)
Constants and variables:
African teams have always had 5 spots. Key thing to note is that sub-Saharan African teams tend to have less domestic players as most play in European nations (eg France, England or even Portugal when it came to Angola. 1998 and 2022 had 3 sub-Saharan African countries and in 2006 we had 4.

European representation has been steadily declining:
15 teams in 1998, 14 teams in 2006 and 13 teams in 2022.

North America had 3 spots in 1998 but it rose to 4 spots in 2006 and it's still at 4 in 2022.
South America had 5 spots in 1998 but it fell to 4 spots in 2006, which is the number of 2022 as well.

Asia had 4 spots in 1998 (Australia part of the Oceania route), 5 spots in 2006 (Australia as part of Asia) and 6 spots in 2022. Middle East teams tend to have the highest number of domestic players. Saudi Arabia is the one constant here and we also have Qatar now with 100% domestic players.


These teams have participated in all three World Cups. Their numbers are:
Brazil 1998: 9/22 (41%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 3/26 (12%) ---> 29% down from 1998 to today
Argentina 1998: 7/22 (32%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 1/26 (4%) ---> 28% down from 1998 to today
Mexico 1998: 21/22 (95%) // 2006: 19/23 (83%) // 2022: 16/26 (62%) ---> 33% down from 1998 to today
USA 1998: 16/22 (73%) // 2006: 11/23 (48%) // 2022: 9/26 (35%) ---> 38% down from 1998 to today
Spain 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 18/23 (78%) // 2022: 18/26 (69%) ----> 31% down from 1998 to today
Germany 1998: 18/22 (82%) // 2006: 21/23 (91%) // 2022: 20/26 (77%) ----> 5% down from 1998 to today, with a rise in between (insignificant)
France 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 11/23 (48%) // 2022: 6/26 (23%) ----> 22% down from 1998 to today
England 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 21/23 (91%) // 2022: 25/26 (96%) ----> 4% down from 1998 to today (insignificant)
Netherlands 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 14/23 (61%) // 2022: 12/26 (46%) ---> 1% up from 1998 to today, with a spike in between (insignificant)
Croatia 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 6/26 (23%) ---> 22% down from 1998 to today
Serbia 1998: 3/22 (14%) // 2006: 7/23 (30%) // 2022: 1/26 (4%) ---> 10% down from 1998 to today, with a spike in 2006. Special circumstances in the 90s. Non-EU member.
Tunisia 1998: 18/22 (82%) // 2006: 4/23 (17%) // 2022: 8/26 (31%) ---> 51% down from 1998 to today, yet an increase from 2006.
Iran 1998: 19/22 (86%) // 2006: 17/23 (74%) // 2022: 9/26 (35%) ----> 51% down from 1998 to today
South Korea 1998: 17/22 (77%) // 2006: 16/23 (70%) // 2022: 14/26 (54%) ---> 23% down from 1998 to today
Japan 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 17/23 (74%) // 2022: 7/26 (27%) ---> 71% down from 1998 to today
Saudi Arabia 100% throughout 1998, 2006 and 2022. Constant

Funnily enough, that's half the tournament having the same teams in 3 different editions that signify a change in how teams are made up, with 16/32 teams being present in 1998, 2006 and 2022.
If we average the difference we get a 26% figure across the constant participants of these two tournaments, which is a little higher than the total 24% difference from point c.


Some other examples:
Portugal from 2006 to 2022: From 8/23 (35%) to 7/26 (27%) ---> 8% down
Belgium
from 1998 to 2022: From 17/22 (77%) to 5/26 (19%) ---> 58% down
Cameroon
from 1998 to 2022: From 4/22 (18%) to 2/26 (7%) ---> 11% down
Morocco
from 1998 to 2022: From 6/22 (27%) to 3/26 (12%) ---> 15% down
Ghana
from 2006 to 2022: From 4/22 (18%) to 2/26 (7%) ----> 11% down


And yes I know it's not an actual % drop but I'm using it as a reflection of how much difference in the % there is between the periods and don't want to use a longer term in the "table".




I mean even if someone doesn't know this, we are witnessing a trend towards a Eurocentric sport, which wasn't really the case until the early 90s. And what we're seeing in the last 10 years is a trend to concentrate most top talent in a handful of teams across even fewer leagues. So I guess the trend suggests an organic "superleague" creation.


There's never been a World Cup where all players played in the domestic league. We came the closest in the 50s.
 

junkie

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Comparing the first post-Bosman World Cup (1998) squads, the first enhanced EU environment World Cup (2006) and this one (2022).
Reminder that squads had 22 players in 1998, 23 players in 2006 and 26 players in 2022.
And another reminder that the EU member-states at the time were 15, before jumping to 25 in the summer of 2004, so World Cup 2006 is also considered here as it changed the landscape by the addition of Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia amongst others that tend to have several good players that European teams buy.

Here are some interesting numbers:
a)
4/32 teams in 1998 had players who were all playing domestically (England, Spain, Japan, Saudi Arabia)
In 2006, that number is 2/32 (Italy and Saudi Arabia)
In 2022 that number is 2/32. (Qatar and Saudi Arabia)

b)
1/32 teams had no players from their own league system in 1998 (Nigeria)
1/32 teams had no players from their own league system in 2006 (Ivory Coast)
3/32 teams have no players from their own league systems in 2022 (Senegal, Canada, Wales)

Canada has 10 players on Canadian teams but they do not play in their league system.
Wales (or Cymru) has 4 players on Welsh teams participating in the English league system.

c)
Average number of players from own league system
1998: 12.47 out of 22 (or 56.7%) // 399 players out of 704 selected
2006: 10.69 out of 23 (or 46.5%) // 342 players out of 736 selected
2022: 8.37 out of 26 (or 32.2%) // 268 players out of 832 selected


d)
Constants and variables:
African teams have always had 5 spots. Key thing to note is that sub-Saharan African teams tend to have less domestic players as most play in European nations (eg France, England or even Portugal when it came to Angola. 1998 and 2022 had 3 sub-Saharan African countries and in 2006 we had 4.

European representation has been steadily declining:
15 teams in 1998, 14 teams in 2006 and 13 teams in 2022.

North America had 3 spots in 1998 but it rose to 4 spots in 2006 and it's still at 4 in 2022.
South America had 5 spots in 1998 but it fell to 4 spots in 2006, which is the number of 2022 as well.

Asia had 4 spots in 1998 (Australia part of the Oceania route), 5 spots in 2006 (Australia as part of Asia) and 6 spots in 2022. Middle East teams tend to have the highest number of domestic players. Saudi Arabia is the one constant here and we also have Qatar now with 100% domestic players.


These teams have participated in all three World Cups. Their numbers are:
Brazil 1998: 9/22 (41%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 3/26 (12%) ---> 29% down from 1998 to today
Argentina 1998: 7/22 (32%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 1/26 (4%) ---> 28% down from 1998 to today
Mexico 1998: 21/22 (95%) // 2006: 19/23 (83%) // 2022: 16/26 (62%) ---> 33% down from 1998 to today
USA 1998: 16/22 (73%) // 2006: 11/23 (48%) // 2022: 9/26 (35%) ---> 38% down from 1998 to today
Spain 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 18/23 (78%) // 2022: 18/26 (69%) ----> 31% down from 1998 to today
Germany 1998: 18/22 (82%) // 2006: 21/23 (91%) // 2022: 20/26 (77%) ----> 5% down from 1998 to today, with a rise in between (insignificant)
France 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 11/23 (48%) // 2022: 6/26 (23%) ----> 22% down from 1998 to today
England 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 21/23 (91%) // 2022: 25/26 (96%) ----> 4% down from 1998 to today (insignificant)
Netherlands 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 14/23 (61%) // 2022: 12/26 (46%) ---> 1% up from 1998 to today, with a spike in between (insignificant)
Croatia 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 6/26 (23%) ---> 22% down from 1998 to today
Serbia 1998: 3/22 (14%) // 2006: 7/23 (30%) // 2022: 1/26 (4%) ---> 10% down from 1998 to today, with a spike in 2006. Special circumstances in the 90s. Non-EU member.
Tunisia 1998: 18/22 (82%) // 2006: 4/23 (17%) // 2022: 8/26 (31%) ---> 51% down from 1998 to today, yet an increase from 2006.
Iran 1998: 19/22 (86%) // 2006: 17/23 (74%) // 2022: 9/26 (35%) ----> 51% down from 1998 to today
South Korea 1998: 17/22 (77%) // 2006: 16/23 (70%) // 2022: 14/26 (54%) ---> 23% down from 1998 to today
Japan 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 17/23 (74%) // 2022: 7/26 (27%) ---> 71% down from 1998 to today
Saudi Arabia 100% throughout 1998, 2006 and 2022. Constant

Funnily enough, that's half the tournament having the same teams in 3 different editions that signify a change in how teams are made up, with 16/32 teams being present in 1998, 2006 and 2022.
If we average the difference we get a 26% figure across the constant participants of these two tournaments, which is a little higher than the total 24% difference from point c.


Some other examples:
Portugal from 2006 to 2022: From 8/23 (35%) to 7/26 (27%) ---> 8% down
Belgium
from 1998 to 2022: From 17/22 (77%) to 5/26 (19%) ---> 58% down
Cameroon
from 1998 to 2022: From 4/22 (18%) to 2/26 (7%) ---> 11% down
Morocco
from 1998 to 2022: From 6/22 (27%) to 3/26 (12%) ---> 15% down
Ghana
from 2006 to 2022: From 4/22 (18%) to 2/26 (7%) ----> 11% down


And yes I know it's not an actual % drop but I'm using it as a reflection of how much difference in the % there is between the periods and don't want to use a longer term in the "table".




I mean even if someone doesn't know this, we are witnessing a trend towards a Eurocentric sport, which wasn't really the case until the early 90s. And what we're seeing in the last 10 years is a trend to concentrate most top talent in a handful of teams across even fewer leagues. So I guess the trend suggests an organic "superleague" creation.


There's never been a World Cup where all players played in the domestic league. We came the closest in the 50s.
where the f... you get the time to do this, if you havetoo much please send some to me...
 

brehme1989

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where the f... you get the time to do this, if you havetoo much please send some to me...
time is a social construct :lol: Also, multitasking is a nice art to excel at.


I have lots of such data stored already from past research, I mostly just had to look up which countries played in the three World Cups actually.
 

Alex de Large

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Everyone with Mexico tonight
 

syrus

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Comparing the first post-Bosman World Cup (1998) squads, the first enhanced EU environment World Cup (2006) and this one (2022).
Reminder that squads had 22 players in 1998, 23 players in 2006 and 26 players in 2022.
And another reminder that the EU member-states at the time were 15, before jumping to 25 in the summer of 2004, so World Cup 2006 is also considered here as it changed the landscape by the addition of Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia amongst others that tend to have several good players that European teams buy.

Here are some interesting numbers:
a)
4/32 teams in 1998 had players who were all playing domestically (England, Spain, Japan, Saudi Arabia)
In 2006, that number is 2/32 (Italy and Saudi Arabia)
In 2022 that number is 2/32. (Qatar and Saudi Arabia)

b)
1/32 teams had no players from their own league system in 1998 (Nigeria)
1/32 teams had no players from their own league system in 2006 (Ivory Coast)
3/32 teams have no players from their own league systems in 2022 (Senegal, Canada, Wales)

Canada has 10 players on Canadian teams but they do not play in their league system.
Wales (or Cymru) has 4 players on Welsh teams participating in the English league system.

c)
Average number of players from own league system
1998: 12.47 out of 22 (or 56.7%) // 399 players out of 704 selected
2006: 10.69 out of 23 (or 46.5%) // 342 players out of 736 selected
2022: 8.37 out of 26 (or 32.2%) // 268 players out of 832 selected


d)
Constants and variables:
African teams have always had 5 spots. Key thing to note is that sub-Saharan African teams tend to have less domestic players as most play in European nations (eg France, England or even Portugal when it came to Angola. 1998 and 2022 had 3 sub-Saharan African countries and in 2006 we had 4.

European representation has been steadily declining:
15 teams in 1998, 14 teams in 2006 and 13 teams in 2022.

North America had 3 spots in 1998 but it rose to 4 spots in 2006 and it's still at 4 in 2022.
South America had 5 spots in 1998 but it fell to 4 spots in 2006, which is the number of 2022 as well.

Asia had 4 spots in 1998 (Australia part of the Oceania route), 5 spots in 2006 (Australia as part of Asia) and 6 spots in 2022. Middle East teams tend to have the highest number of domestic players. Saudi Arabia is the one constant here and we also have Qatar now with 100% domestic players.


These teams have participated in all three World Cups. Their numbers are:
Brazil 1998: 9/22 (41%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 3/26 (12%) ---> 29% down from 1998 to today
Argentina 1998: 7/22 (32%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 1/26 (4%) ---> 28% down from 1998 to today
Mexico 1998: 21/22 (95%) // 2006: 19/23 (83%) // 2022: 16/26 (62%) ---> 33% down from 1998 to today
USA 1998: 16/22 (73%) // 2006: 11/23 (48%) // 2022: 9/26 (35%) ---> 38% down from 1998 to today
Spain 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 18/23 (78%) // 2022: 18/26 (69%) ----> 31% down from 1998 to today
Germany 1998: 18/22 (82%) // 2006: 21/23 (91%) // 2022: 20/26 (77%) ----> 5% down from 1998 to today, with a rise in between (insignificant)
France 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 11/23 (48%) // 2022: 6/26 (23%) ----> 22% down from 1998 to today
England 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 21/23 (91%) // 2022: 25/26 (96%) ----> 4% down from 1998 to today (insignificant)
Netherlands 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 14/23 (61%) // 2022: 12/26 (46%) ---> 1% up from 1998 to today, with a spike in between (insignificant)
Croatia 1998: 10/22 (45%) // 2006: 3/23 (13%) // 2022: 6/26 (23%) ---> 22% down from 1998 to today
Serbia 1998: 3/22 (14%) // 2006: 7/23 (30%) // 2022: 1/26 (4%) ---> 10% down from 1998 to today, with a spike in 2006. Special circumstances in the 90s. Non-EU member.
Tunisia 1998: 18/22 (82%) // 2006: 4/23 (17%) // 2022: 8/26 (31%) ---> 51% down from 1998 to today, yet an increase from 2006.
Iran 1998: 19/22 (86%) // 2006: 17/23 (74%) // 2022: 9/26 (35%) ----> 51% down from 1998 to today
South Korea 1998: 17/22 (77%) // 2006: 16/23 (70%) // 2022: 14/26 (54%) ---> 23% down from 1998 to today
Japan 1998: 22/22 (100%) // 2006: 17/23 (74%) // 2022: 7/26 (27%) ---> 71% down from 1998 to today
Saudi Arabia 100% throughout 1998, 2006 and 2022. Constant

Funnily enough, that's half the tournament having the same teams in 3 different editions that signify a change in how teams are made up, with 16/32 teams being present in 1998, 2006 and 2022.
If we average the difference we get a 26% figure across the constant participants of these two tournaments, which is a little higher than the total 24% difference from point c.


Some other examples:
Portugal from 2006 to 2022: From 8/23 (35%) to 7/26 (27%) ---> 8% down
Belgium
from 1998 to 2022: From 17/22 (77%) to 5/26 (19%) ---> 58% down
Cameroon
from 1998 to 2022: From 4/22 (18%) to 2/26 (7%) ---> 11% down
Morocco
from 1998 to 2022: From 6/22 (27%) to 3/26 (12%) ---> 15% down
Ghana
from 2006 to 2022: From 4/22 (18%) to 2/26 (7%) ----> 11% down


And yes I know it's not an actual % drop but I'm using it as a reflection of how much difference in the % there is between the periods and don't want to use a longer term in the "table".




I mean even if someone doesn't know this, we are witnessing a trend towards a Eurocentric sport, which wasn't really the case until the early 90s. And what we're seeing in the last 10 years is a trend to concentrate most top talent in a handful of teams across even fewer leagues. So I guess the trend suggests an organic "superleague" creation.


There's never been a World Cup where all players played in the domestic league. We came the closest in the 50s.
Tell me you did not type that on your phone
 

DiegoMilito22

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I honestly think we should say goodbye to having an Inter player in the final. There is no way Argentina, Netherlands or Croatia go further than the quarterfinals (unless Argentina win the group to have a possible Argentina Netherlands matchup in quarterfinal). On the other hand, Bayern have a good chance from France national team.
 
Last edited:

wera

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I've been thinking about how some of our best players are at home right now. Skriniar, Bastoni and obviously, Barella.

Inter players at World Cup are showing that we don't really have a big star in the team, a player that steps up when shit gets hard and that really has world class quality. It's gonna be great when they all come back and be even more deflated than they were.

To use an NBA example - it's like Mavs without Dončić. A bunch of players that know how to play, but nobody being world class, nobody being a real leader.
 
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