It’s that time again when I chuck out 30 wishes for the new year. Wishes that, mostly, don’t come true, though sometimes we do get forward progress. Heck, this is my 11th year doing this, and you’ll see it’s more about hope than about predictions.
But hey, we love this sport, right? And hope is a big part of love.
Gab’s wishes from: 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014
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1. That we remember the legacy of past World Cups, not just in the immediate aftermath but over time as well, and ask what makes sense and what doesn’t. My colleague James Olley returned to Doha a year later and did a deep dive into the impact of the 2022 World Cup. It would be great if FIFA and the powers that be did the same for Russia 2018, Brazil 2014 and South Africa 2010, learned lessons and used them as guidelines for future competitions. The World Cup shouldn’t just be a vehicle for PR, soft power and feeding at the trough of public money.
2. That FIFA president Gianni Infantino remembers the regulations on term limits he helped write back in 2015 and doesn’t pursue the presidency again after 2027. It’s right there, in point 10: “a maximum of 12 years.” He was first elected president in 2016 (and reelected in 2019 and 2023) but somehow FIFA has decided that his first three years don’t count, because it wasn’t a full term. That’s a technicality that entirely misses the spirit of the law. Term limits are there for a reason: good governance.
3. That UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, who is in a similar position, does the same and avoids going past 2027. It’s a matter of principle, yes, but also practicality: any organisation benefits from fresh blood and fresh ideas. If you, as a leader, think that after 12 years in charge, your organisation is somehow going to collapse or be markedly worse off without you, maybe you should have done more in those 12 years to make it strong enough to survive once you’re gone.
4. That UEFA’s new financial sustainability rules won’t just make the game sustainable, but also help restore faith in institutions. It’s one of the stated aims: increasing “transparency and credibility.” And yet ask most fans and they’ll tell you how Club X is cooking the books, Club Y is getting favourable treatment and Club Z is inflating sponsorship revenue. Why? Because many don’t have faith in the system. It’s not just a fact that many don’t understand the rules. It’s also the fact that those who do understand the rules don’t have the facts to decide whether the rules are being applied correctly. Because, for all the talk of transparency, there’s too much information that is deemed to be “commercially sensitive” and too many clubs that aren’t forthcoming about how they make their money.
5. That the European Court of Justice’s judgement in the Super League case be followed up with clarity. Instead, we got something that allowed both sides to claim victory and is still vague enough that it lends itself to more interpretation and (worse) more litigation. Take the principle of “sporting merit” as a prerequisite to qualify for the Champions League or whatever competition A-22, the company behind the Super League, wants to replace it. We can take “sporting merit” to mean you qualify by finishing near the top of your domestic league. Or we can take “sporting merit” to mean you avoid relegation from the league you’re in (which is how, say, teams “qualify” for the Premier League: they don’t get relegated the year before). Clarity, please.
6. That if A-22 is serious, they come up with something more credible than this nonsense. Leaving aside the impact on the domestic leagues or the fact that, at most, there’d be 20 spots (out of 64) do they really think they’re going to make far more money than they do now by showing games for free and selling ads around them? (Plus, of course, the premium they’re with “exciting innovations” like no commercials, live match data, favourite camera angles and “other interactive options”, as if it was 2003 all over again.)
7. That the Swiss model delivers in terms of adding excitement and uncertainty to the Champions League group stage. Not going to lie, the current setup hasn’t exactly delivered cliffhangers in recent years. (Though it’s still a darn sight better than the 14-game slog followed by knockouts A-22 is suggesting.) I’m ready for something new.
8. That UEFA figures out a way to maximize the potential of the Women’s Champions League. It will be getting a revamp from 2025-26, but in the meantime, there has to be a better way to market it. At the international level, the women’s game does just fine. At the domestic level, there’s a massive imbalance between the haves (Barcelona have lost two league matches since 2019 in the Spanish top flight, Chelsea have won the past four editions of the league in England) and have-nots. The women’s Champions League should be a bigger deal than it is.
9. That the Saudi Pro League’s recent spending isn’t just another bubble that’s going to burst. We saw massive spending on players and stadiums last summer and — guess what? — attendance is actually down. So too is media attention for everybody not named Cristiano Ronaldo. They may have a ton of money, but at some point, you need to get a return.
10. That people stop saying stupid things such as: “There are more refereeing errors since the introduction of VAR.” No, there aren’t. You may not like VAR because of the interruptions, it may be badly applied at times, you may not like the whole concept, that’s up to you. But in terms of massive blunders, they’ve gone down.
11. That when (if?) we ever get a resolution to the Premier League’s investigation into Manchester City’s 115 charges of violating financial fair play regulations, it will be seen as a fair and just verdict and folks will understand it. Yup, wishful thinking. And this investigation, of course, began way back in 2018 so given the pace at which this is moving, Alfie Haaland’s grandson might be playing at the Etihad by the time it’s resolved. I just hope that when it is resolved, most folks will understand it and agree that, broadly, it’s fair.
12. That semi-automatic offside becomes more widespread. I don’t actually know if it’s significantly more reliable than guys drawing lines on a screen. What I do know is that it’s quick and that people seem to be more accepting of technology telling them something than humans (witness the fact that nobody questions goal-line technology, despite it also having a margin of error and occasionally malfunctioning).
13. That FIFA take the opportunity to revisit their new agent regulations, now that legal action has forced the organisation to temporarily suspend them. They’ve been sued in many different countries over new rules that cap the commissions that can be paid on each transfer. I know folks are frustrated by the amount some agents and intermediaries earn, but putting a limit on it in a free market system is, understandably, dubious. Better to scrap the limit in exchange for full transparency and accountability. If a club wants to pay an agent five million in fees on a 10 million transfer, that’s up to them, but they should have to explain why it’s necessary to their fans, shareholders and public opinion.
14. That if players feel they are asked to play too many games, they take the lead in changing things. We’ve been hearing how the fixture list is too congested and how it’s taking a toll on the physical and mental health of players. Fine. Do something about it, rather than generically blaming FIFA, UEFA, and the leagues. I suspect this hasn’t happened because the ones who play too many games are a tiny minority, but also the ones who drive the business. Well, it’s up to them to take a stand. Otherwise, nothing will change.
15. That Jakub Jankto’s experience since coming out as gay serves as encouragement to those who are considering doing the same. My colleague Sid Lowe wrote about this recently. Jankto, by far the most high-profile men’s player to come out and the only international, says he’s a reluctant role model. Maybe so, but he’s still a role model, and hopefully his story will inspire others to follow in his footsteps if they wish.
16. That Carlo Ancelotti enjoys his additional two years at Real Madrid. He never hid the fact that while the Brazil job was enticing, if Florentino Perez offered him a new deal at the Bernabeu, he’d take it. And he was true to his word, extending his contract through 2026. He knows the nature of the gig is to be questioned, constantly, but he’s OK with that. And — guess what? — the Brazil job may well still be around in 2026.
17. That Neymar makes it back to the Seleção in time for the Copa America. I know, we’re talking ACL, and Brazil’s team doctor said it was going to be virtually impossible. But we can hope, right?
18. That Sir Jim Ratcliffe brings, in addition to money, fresh ideas and fresh people to Manchester United. For the past decade, the only way the club could change things was by changing the manager. They may need to do that too, but just as important is changing the culture of an organisation that has remained the same for far too long. Whether it’s Dave Brailsford, Jean-Claude Blanc or whoever else, it’s time to turn the page above the manager’s head.
19. That Kylian Mbappe does what’s right for him and his career, without stringing anybody along. He’s a free agent in June; as of Jan. 1 he can sign with anyone. Whether he stays at Paris Saint-Germain or moves elsewhere, let him be clear this time around. He doesn’t need any more acrimony in his life.
20. That Germany have a dignified Euro 2024 campaign. That’s a tough one for me, as an Italian, to say, because the past two World Cup first-round exits almost made me forget the Azzurri didn’t qualify. But they’re a mess right now, manager Julian Nagelsmann has a mountain to climb and you struggle to think of a host nation going into a tournament lower on confidence. Here’s hoping for some good football, a couple of youngsters and, say, a quarterfinal exit. (Hey, I did say “dignified campaign”… I certainly don’t want them to win it!)
21. That we find the right balance between respect and accountability when talking about referees. At the top level, they’re pros and I have no problem with holding them accountable. But, equally, the constant moaning and whingeing about officials — especially during games — is something that, rightly, they’re trying to stamp out. It is now affecting the grassroots game, with fewer kids wanting to become officials, and it will take more than videos like this one to change.
22. That Xabi Alonso stays at Bayer Leverkusen another season and does something special. It would have been fun to see him at Real Madrid. But it could be even more fun — if Leverkusen hang on to their stars — to see him have a proper go at the BayArena. He’s already shown his worth, the Real Madrid job (and other, equally high-profile gigs, aren’t going anywhere).
23. That Mohamed Salah sticks around at Liverpool until the end of his contract. He turns 32 this summer and will probably get a big offer from Saudi Arabia. One which may be significant enough for Liverpool to encourage him to take it. But given the sort of campaign he’s having, I’m not ready to see him go. Seek out a year deal, Mo, and decide in 2025 what you want to do. Please?
24. That Chelsea learn from their mistakes and some folks at the club develop a bit of humility. It’s been 18 months of a laughingstock fare at Stamford Bridge. You know the numbers: four managers, a billion spent, double-figure positions in the league. Nobody is going to have much sympathy given what happened in the Roman Abramovich Era and some might say that it’s karma. Maybe it is. But at some point, even schadenfreude gets old, doesn’t it?
25. That Lionel Messi surrounding himself with friends and ex-teammates in Miami means he’s enjoying himself, not that this is some kind of early retirement. Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and now Luis Suarez have all joined him at Inter Miami, which should make for some fun barbecues in his backyard. You hope, though, that it keeps him hungry and stimulated. Because if you love football, you want to squeeze as much Messi as you can before he hangs up his boots.
26. That Cristiano Ronaldo comes home at some point. He has been away now for some twelve months and, because he pops up with Portugal each and every international break and we still see him on social media, he hasn’t disappeared entirely. But I miss him. And I still think it would be really cool if, at some point, he returned to where it all began: Sporting CP.
27. That if Jose Mourinho does leave Roma, he doesn’t slam the door behind him. Here’s the thing about Mourinho. His last four jobs before Roma — Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur — ended badly, amidst finger-pointing and blame. He’s in his third season at Roma and — while he hasn’t been a rip-roaring success — he has a genuine connection with the fans who adore him. If he does move on (Roma will take stock at the end of the season, but having Mourinho around is both exhausting and expensive) let it be a friendly breakup.
28. That Kai Havertz finds his place on the pitch. Is it up front? Is it out wide? Is it in attacking midfield in a 4-1-4-1 or is he a No. 8 in a 4-2-3-1? Few players have had as many labels attached to them. Fewer still have his combination of size, strength, quality and athleticism … plus just the right dose of “nasty.” Chelsea couldn’t unlock his potential, and manager Mikel Arteta and Arsenal haven’t quite gotten it right there. And obviously, neither have Germany, despite playing him at left wingback on one occasion. Whoever gets Havertz right will be rewarded. And if it’s Arteta, it could mean a Premier League title this season.
29. That Ajax sort themselves out. They were in last place on Halloween and, as I write this, they’re up to fifth, albeit 23 points away from first place. But the very idea that Ajax — one of the most iconic clubs in the world — could be relegated was enough to make your skin crawl. Let it be a reminder that — beyond pedigree and bluster, money and size — you still need to go out and prove yourself every year on the pitch. And that bad decisions have consequences. Ajax fans deserve better.
30. That kids who fall in love with the sport be given the chance, first and foremost, to support their local clubs before jumping on the big-club bandwagon simply because that is what is pumped relentlessly onto screens. Yes, this is copied-and-pasted from previous years, but it’s worth repeating. And it’s the one wish over which we have the most control.