Wishes for 2018: Peaceful World Cup, transparency over PSG spending
It's that time of year when I look forward to what I'd like to see in 2018. Some of it is pie-in-the-sky, some of it less so and some of it you've probably seen before in 2014, 2015, 2016 or 2017. But, I hope, you'll agree that these are worthy wishes for 2018.
Happy New Year!
1. That the 2018 World Cup in Russia works about as well as the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia in terms of racism (no reported incidents), hooliganism (no reported incidents) and logistics (everything worked fine). It won't be easy, with more venues, more teams and more fans.
2. That FIFA takes a definitive stand on Vitaly Mutko. After receiving a lifetime ban from the International Olympic Committee following an investigation into state-sponsored doping, he stepped down from his role as head of the Russian Football Association and chairman of the Russia 2018 World Cup organizing committee. (Don't worry, he'll still be hanging around: he's also the Russian deputy prime minister.) FIFA needs to establish -- sooner, rather than later -- whether there are grounds to ban him from football as well. If there aren't, it needs to fully clear him and tell us why.
3. That folks take the time to understand Video Assistant Review (VAR) and what it can and can't do ... particularly if it's going to be a part of Russia 2018. (Expect a decision in March.)
4. That U.S. prosecutors continue to use the tools available to them to pursue football corruption cases around the world. The recent convictions of Juan Angel Napout, the former head of CONMEBOL, and Juan Maria Marin, the former head of the Brazil FA, show just how dysfunctional and corrupt the governance of the game was in the Americas. As dispiriting as it may be that it requires the long arm of the U.S. legal system -- as opposed to having functioning institutions and safeguards elsewhere -- to patrol the game, at least something is being done.
5. That the UEFA Nations League and (if it ever happens) its big brother, the Global Nations League, helps give the international game a much-needed shot in the arm. The current setup does virtually nothing for more than half of the world's associations and that needs to change.
6. That more folks wake up to the extreme polarization and income inequality in the game, which has been at unprecedented levels for a long time and is only getting worse. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin says he has a plan. I have no idea what it might be, but it can't come too soon. I don't want to see a dozen super clubs running roughshod over the rest of the world.
7. That while you hope the fight against performance-enhancing drugs continues unabated, FIFA doesn't let itself be bullied by one-size-fits-all rules. Peru captain Paolo Guerrero will, thankfully, be allowed to play in the World Cup, but he's still getting a raw deal after testing positive for what most definitely is not a PED.
8. That UEFA operates with the utmost transparency and, if needed, toughness when it comes to Paris Saint-Germain and financial fair play (FFP). If PSG can meet the FFP requirements after committing some $400 million to Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, great. And while you're at it, please tell us how they did it because the world is going to struggle to believe it. If they haven't, throw the book at them. This would be their second breach in four years and they were warned, repeatedly, about it.
9. That Milan fans get the stability a seven-time European champion capable of drawing 50,000-plus fans per game in a down year deserves. That could mean Li Yonghong suddenly coming up with the money (I'm not holding my breath), the club being sold or, if they default on the loan, Elliott Management taking over and finding new owners. Whatever the case, situations like this one must not be allowed to arise again.
10. That more footballers understand their bodies are the tools of their trade and their employers aren't always the ideal guy to give you medical advice. Given what we know about things like concussions, painkiller abuse and old injuries that linger into middle age, it's beyond me why players who can afford otherwise continue to rely on club doctors.
11. That the folks who will vote for the United States Soccer Federation president seize the opportunity to turn the disappointment over missing out on the World Cup in 2018 to do something tangible and, perhaps, different. Viewed from across the pond, the U.S. landscape is an enigma. There's huge potential and passion, not to mention savvy commercial leadership, but also too many folks who worked cheek by jowl for decades with the late Chuck Blazer and either didn't notice the rampant corruption or were too scared to do something about it.
12. That people grow up a little bit when it comes to fandom. Yes, it's possible that if someone criticizes your team or your favorite player, maybe they really are biased or part of a vast conspiracy against your guys. Or maybe they're just expressing an opinion you disagree with.
13. That we begin having a serious conversation about fixture congestion, recovery times and the impact they have upon what we see on the pitch. In my perfect world, there is no midweek league football, there are 18 (if not 16) teams in a country's top flight and coaches and players have actual time to prepare.
14. That pundits and media stop talking about Harry Kane needing to move to other clubs to "win silverware." He's at the club he has always supported, he's making a great living and he's enjoying himself. Maybe what he achieves with Tottenham is worth more to him than doing it elsewhere, at a club likely to win whether he's there or not.
15. That folks can sometimes appreciate what Pep Guardiola is doing at Manchester City without necessarily character-assassinating him via the club's spending, wage bill and owners, or his support for Qatar 2022 or Catalan independence. Guardiola isn't a saint; he's a guy with his own views you may or may not agree with. And he's not the only one who manages a club with enormous resources. Can we maybe just appreciate, for a minute, the way his team plays before going back to skewering him?
16. That when the inevitable inquest comes to Real Madrid -- and it will, given that they're out of the Liga race by the new year -- it will go beyond Zinedine Zidane. Decisions were made higher up the food chain in terms of transfers and, especially, contract extensions. And these have had consequences.
17. That if this really is to be Cristiano Ronaldo's final World Cup, he goes out with a bang. Just as he did, in his own way, in helping Portugal win the Euros.
18. That Manchester United's owners take a long, hard look at what has happened on the pitch since Sir Alex Ferguson left and Ed Woodward became omnipotent. There's a reason why successful clubs generally have strong director of football types responsible for molding the image of the club and its recruitment and acting as a counterweight to the manager.
19. That Jorge Sampaoli transplants the DNA of his brilliant Chile side (and, before that, "La U") into this top-heavy Argentina team. If he can do that, he can help Lionel Messi get that World Cup his detractors insist (wrongly) is a prerequisite for GOAT status.
20. That Arsene Wenger makes up his mind about whether he'll be around in 2018-19 sooner rather than later, the two year deal he signed last summer notwithstanding of course, since the club clearly won't make up his mind for him. The shambles with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez may not have been solely down to his dithering, but it certainly didn't help.
21. That Barcelona's improbable success thus far this season doesn't paper over the serious cracks beneath it. Ernesto Valverde and Messi have driven the club forward in 2017-18 but the underlying issues in terms of recruitment and contract policy have not gone away. And they must be addressed.
22. That somebody figures out how unhealthy Bayern's hegemony is over the Bundesliga. Nabbing top performers from competing clubs in midseason (Sandro Wagner from Hoffenheim and Leon Goretzka from Schalke, who'll join in the summer) isn't normal. Nor is it normal that they do nothing to distance themselves from rumors linking them to Julian Nagelsmann, who happens to be in charge of a rival team right now.
23. That Thomas Tuchel comes back to management. I miss him and I miss his football, plus he got a raw deal at Borussia Dortmund last year.
24. That even though he won't be doing it at the World Cup, Gianluigi Buffon continues to turn back the clock at the highest level. After witnessing the retirements of Frank Lampard, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo, Francesco Totti, Phillip Lahm and Xabi Alonso in 2017, I'd like a bit of a respite from such exits for another 12 months.
25. That Maurizio Sarri serves as an inspiration to aspiring coaches and perhaps clubs looking for coaching talent as well. He never played professionally, he coached part-timers in non-league while working full-time in a bank until he was 40, and now he sits atop Serie A with a Napoli side playing some of the best football in Europe.
26. That Essam El-Hadary plays in the World Cup and enjoys every minute. He'll be 45 years old, and following his having played a huge part in getting Egypt to Russia 2018, you can't help but cheer him on.
27. That if Juventus do not win the title this season, it won't be seen as some kind of massive shortcoming on Max Allegri's part. But rather an acknowledgement that others are bridging the gap and there are only so many times you can rebuild on the fly.
28. That one day we find out who at Liverpool was so obsessed with Virgil Van Dijk that they paid 50 percent more for him than any defender in history and made him one of the 10 most expensive players ever. (And not just that, but all but one of the others in the top 10 were younger at the time.) Whichever way you look at it, this was a hugely counterintuitive move. If it flops, I want to know who was responsible. If it succeeds, I want to know where to direct praise.
29. That Sebastian "El Loco" Abreu doesn't stop at 26. Have boots, will travel. There's always room for a big target man with experience, hunger and boundless joy at playing football.
30. That kids who fall in love with the sport be given the chance first and foremost to support their local club before jumping on the big juggernaut club bandwagon simply because it's pumped relentlessly onto their screens. (Yep, I've had this one before. It's worth repeating.)
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.