An Expanded World Cup and Club World Cup: FIFA’s Changes and What it Means for Agents
For every audience and finance-led industry, evolving to fit with the interests of modern society is imperative. Football is one of these and FIFA is one of the bodies that has the responsibility of structuring the beautiful game around the world to continue to attract the largest fanbase of any global sport.
Over the recent months there have been some major changes to international competitions that FIFA have made. In this blog we will explain exactly what these changes are, the reasons for them, the immediate criticism that they have come under, and the implications for football agents managing the players that may be involved.
The Club World Cup
The current Club World Cup is an international FIFA competition that has been held every year since 2005 after the first edition in 2000. It has consisted of seven teams, winners from different confederations across the footballing world, and spans across around two weeks before deciding a ‘club world champion’. Real Madrid are the most recent winners, having claimed the title in Morocco in 2022 and the next tournament will take place in Saudi Arabia in December of this year.
FIFA have now announced that this year’s edition will be the penultimate. As of 2025, a new Club World Cup format will begin. The rejuvenated tournament will consist of 32 clubs divided into eight groups, a large increase for just the seven teams competing for the title before. These teams will be selected from title winners and highly ranked clubs in the different confederations; four teams from the AFC (Asian Football Confederation), another four from CAF (Confederation of African Football) and CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). There will then be six clubs from the CONMEBOL (Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol), one from the OFC (Oceania Football Confederation), and twelve teams from UEFA (Union of European Football Associations). The final club will be chosen from the host nation of the competition. The supposed plan at the moment is for the United States of America to host the newly formatted competition in 2025 as a trial event before they then also host the 2026 International World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico.
Positives and Criticism
The argument given by FIFA for introducing a revamped and expanded Club World Cup is that it will generate enormous sums of money which can then be reinvested into world football and to improve accessibility and opportunities within the game in all corners of the globe. There is also a proposal for a women’s version of the competition, once again aimed at enhancing the exposure and attractiveness of the sport, helping women’s football to grow.
On the other hand, FIFA has received a lot of criticism for the decision and the manner in which it was made. FIFPro, the Union for Professional Footballers have been outspoken in claiming that the planning and restructuring of the tournament was conducted ‘unilaterally’ and without the consultation of national associations and the players and clubs that will be involved. This is not the first time that FIFA have been questioned for a lack of collaboration with others in making decisions which impact global football. Other stakeholders, governing bodies and national associations may feel they should have a voice in finding the best proposals to improve the future of football.
The new tournament could threaten and degrade historic and traditional domestic and other international club competitions. National associations may be concerned that this affects their domestic tournaments by taking attention and priority away from them and diverting a club’s focus to winning the new Club World Cup tournament. This will distort the competitiveness of domestic leagues and cups and place further pressure on national associations trying to grow the game in their own country.
Another aspect that has been cited by critics is the already clustered schedule for modern football players playing at the highest level. The footballing calendar is busier than ever before and, as we discussed previously regarding increasing player injuries, the welfare of players could be threatened. Additional congestion in the schedule means less time away from high-pressure situations for the players and greater chance of injury and mental health issues. This has led well-known British pundit, Jamie Carragher, to call for European clubs to actually boycott the Club World Cup as it renders players being ‘overused’ and comparable to ‘cattle’.
The FIFA World Cup
We have known for a while that FIFA planned to make similar expansion changes to international football and most significantly, the number of nations represented in the World Cup. The 2026 US, Canada and Mexico edition of the tournament will consist of 48 nations, increased from 32. In 2017, FIFA had said that the FIFA Council had decided upon 16 groups of three but after a very successful and exciting Qatar World Cup in 2022 with the traditional 4-team groups, FIFA has now stated that they will re-discuss this. The possibility is that FIFA will still have groups of four and hence, there will be 12 groups rather than the traditional eight. However, this will then impact their original plan to promote the top two of each 3-team group to a knockout stage of 32 nations which then dwindles to 16, 8, 4 and 2 in the final. This is another element which FIFA will likely deliberate over before making a final decision.
The positive thinking behind the expanded tournament is to provide the opportunity to nations and its players to represent their countries and people in the world’s biggest competition when previously they may never have had this opportunity. The same can be said for FIFA’s proposal to expand the women’s Olympic tournament to 16 teams rather than just 12 as well. Increased opportunity, exposure and accessibility is the main driving force behind FIFA’s proposals. However, once again this decision has not gone without criticism. There is a concern that an expanded World Cup not only reduces the seriousness and competitiveness of the qualification process but will also dilute the talent and excitement of the actual tournament. Fears are that major teams will record huge margins and wins over minor countries and the rise in one-sided games will reduce the attraction of the early stages of the World Cup.
FIFA are also considering changes to the international calendar away from just the World Cup. From 2025, there will be an extended four-match international break in late September and early October rather than two separate breaks. There will continue to be international fixtures and therefore, league breaks in November, March and June. The hope is that this will enhance the integration of the international fixtures within domestic league or cup campaigns. This will take place alongside expanded youth international tournaments and competitions to promote youth football and provide greater opportunities for development on the international stage.
What this Means for Agents
The new changes by FIFA will impact every aspect of football. However, it is important for us to consider the implications for agents, both positive and negative. Firstly, expanded top competitions means more players participating in the most watched and important tournaments in football. Hence, there is a greater possibility that an agent’s client(s) will have the opportunity to demonstrate their talent at the highest level. This has the benefit of increased exposure and, if they perform well and are well supported by their agent, better opportunities may arise. These opportunities will not just be sporting but also commercially, for players appearing on televised fixtures viewed by millions will have more of a commercial value. Agents need to be aware that these new expanded formats may present greater chances to capitalise on on behalf of clients and provide services for them by bringing them improved sporting and financial possibilities.
There are also areas of caution with the new changes that echo the concerns of many in terms of increased congestion and an overloaded schedule. It is important for agents to communicate openly with clients once these new changes come into force. The mental health and physical well-being of clients will be under pressure and agents should understand if their client is struggling and ensure that they receive the required attention.
FIFA continues to make changes to global football and its top competitions, both internationally and at club level. There are various arguments in support of such changes as well as criticism regarding the negative effects it may have on domestic competitions and the players involved. It is an ongoing development that agents need to be aware of and ensure they are well prepared to capitalise on any positive benefits for clients that come with the changes and to avoid the risks and drawbacks that clients may face.