Tag Archives: Brazil

Power Ranking the 2014 FIFA World Cup Stadiums

With the World Cup just around the corner, excitement is well and truly brewing. Construction workers in Brazil are frantically putting the finishing touches to a stellar lineup of stadiums ready to host fans the world over for a month.

There have been many obstacles along the way, notably the well-publicized construction delays that have led to criticism directly from FIFA, but it looks as if the construction will be carried over the line in time for the tournament—just.

Here we rank the 12 World Cup stadiums this summer, based on a number of criteria: geographical location, game significance, structural features and importance to the community.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

All stadium information provided by the World Cup Portal, the official Brazilian Federal Government website on the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

12. Arena Pantanal (Cuiaba)

Jose Medeiros/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Cuiaba’s Arena Pantanal is last on our list, and its geographical location is a major reason behind its low ranking: There is no team in the state that plays in Brazil’s top football division, making this 41,390-seater a likely candidate to become a white elephant after the World Cup.

After the tournament, the arena will “turn into a new leisure venue for locals,” according to the World Cup Portal, which goes to show just how unimportant this stadium location was in the first place.

 

Game Significance

That the ground will only host four group stage matches doesn’t help its ranking on our list either.

While Chile-Australia, Russia-South Korea, Nigeria-Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan-Colombia are all interesting matchups in their own right, the fact that none of the big boys will be on show in the Arena Pantanal says it all about its significance.

 

Structural Features

Since it is a brand-new stadium for the World Cup, modern architectural features and fan-friendly accessibility factors do redeem the Arena Pantanal somewhat.

It has 90,000 square meters of promenade surrounding it, while 20 entrances, 79 turnstiles, 20 staircases and 12 elevators will provide fans a spacious environment to enter and exit the stadium.

There are also 32 food kiosks, three restaurants, 97 boxes and 66 lavatories, making it a fan-centric modern structure.

 

Importance to the Community

Legacy inside and outside of football is very much part of FIFA’s lexicon when it comes to hosting World Cups across the world.

In the Arena Pantanal’s case, since there is no local first-tier team that will be able to make use of such a grandiose new construction project, there is no choice but for the stadium to turn into a multi-purpose venue after the tournament.

Whether that is “important” to the local community or simply a convenient reason for Cuiaba to be a host city is entirely up to you.

 

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

11. Arena Da Amazonia (Manaus)

Jose Zamith/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Arena da Amazonia is another stadium whose geographical location just doesn’t help itself.

Sure, you can argue that hosting a World Cup match so close to the Amazon makes for an exotic experience, but the traffic and the climate there—not to the mention the sheer distance from everywhere else—makes Manaus a royal pain of a venue.

There’s a local adage that goes: “There are two seasons in Manaus—summer and hell.” And there’s a whole article on CBS News (and other various news outlets) on just how challenging the Manaus location is.

 

Game Significance

The most high-profile match here is Group D’s clash between England and Italy—not that Roy Hodgson and his team will enjoy traveling such a long distance for an already tough match on paper.

Manaus was never going to host more than the standard four group-stage games: It would have presented too much of a logistical challenge otherwise.

 

Structural Features

What you can’t deny is the spectacle that the Arena da Amazonia is as an architectural feat. The 45,500-seater takes inspiration from an “indigenous straw basket, full of Brazilian fruit,” according to the World Cup Portal, which is its most distinct feature.

Seven colors in various tones of yellow, orange and red are represented in the stadium seats, while the stadium facade itself looks like a basket from the X-shaped metal modules. (We considered moving it up our rankings because of these unique features.)

 

Importance to the Community

Yet for all of its vibrant colors, the Manaus area really doesn’t have a pressing need for a state-of-the-art new football stadium, not least because of the transportation problems the city will likely encounter for its matches.

Here‘s a revealing statement from the Telegraph that shows just how “important” the stadium will be:

There has been some speculation that it might be used as a prison after the World Cup to relieve overcrowding elsewhere.

Legacy indeed.

 

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

10. Arena Da Baixada (Curitiba)

Alexandre Carnieri/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Outside of sports, Curitiba has long been recognized for its central role in Brazilian economics; indeed, it was awarded the Global Sustainable City Award in 2010, which recognized the city’s sustainable urban development.

The Arena da Baixada finds itself in one of the most desirable cities in Brazil.

 

Game Significance

Despite its ideal location, the Arena da Baixada plays host to a disappointing four matches this summer, and none of the fixtures on show in Curitiba is a mouthwatering clash.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 43,000, the Arena da Baixada is a respectable arena that is also the home stadium of Atletico Paranaense, who also own and operate it.

Rising like a concrete box in the middle of the city, the Arena is a structurally impressive stadium: Its ground facade is almost see-through, meaning that people outside of the stadium are able to look inside towards the ground.

The 48 kiosks and four restaurants for food, as well as the 884 underground indoor parking spaces, make it a strong contender in the accessibility category.

 

Importance to the Community

Construction delays and failure to meet the agreed FIFA timeline is one of the reasons the Arena da Baixada ranks so low here. As of May 15, it was one of three World Cup stadiums yet to be completed, according to Yahoo!, while a test match in mid-May saw bulldozers parked outside with construction material piled up.

Curitiba was nearly excluded from the tournament outright because of “chronic delays that were caused mostly by financial shortcomings.” Certainly not encouraging.

 

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

9. Estadio Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)

Gabriel Heusi/Associated Press

Geographical Location

In terms of location, the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre is arguably one of the most fitting venues in Brazil to hold World Cup matches. The city features one of the most intense cross-town rivalries in Brazilian football—Internacional and Gremio.

It is also the southernmost stadium out of all 12, which means that colder temperatures are likely.

 

Game Significance

With five matches to host, the Estadio Beira-Rio slightly outperforms its predecessors on this list. France, the Netherlands and Argentina are among the high-profile teams to play their group stages matches in Porto Alegre, while it is also set to host a round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

Unlike the stadiums at Cuiaba and Manaus, the Estadio Beira-Rio is not a completely new structure; rather, the redeveloped design accentuates the already striking facade to present one of the most memorable out of the 12.

It also hosts a respectable 50,000 seats, and after redevelopment, the stands have been moved closer to the pitch for a better fan experience. The 22 bars and snack bars and the 44 shops will add to a few good days out in Porto Alegre.

 

Importance to the Community

With football such a prominent part of the Porto Alegre community, the Estadio Beira-Rio commands an even more premium location, on the banks of the Guaiba River and extremely accessible from the main hotels and the airport.

The only major piece of negative news is that as recently as this March, its mayor claimed that it might drop out of the World Cup because of insufficient funding (via the BBC). For such a football-mad city, that is quite unbelievable.

 

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

8. Arena Fonte Nova (Salvador)

David Campbell/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Known as the capital of happiness in Brazil, Salvador is host to the annual Central do Carnaval, and it seems natural to bring the World Cup to a city with a party atmosphere.

Situated close to the seaside, the Arena Fonte Nova enjoys a spectacular view and stands out as a space-age construction amid buildings of modest height in a bustling city.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Fonte Nova will host six matches this summer, with four group matches (featuring such heavyweights as Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and France), a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

 

Structural Features

With a capacity of 55,000, Salvador’s stadium is one of the most impressive constructions to feature this summer. Having been constructed for the Confederations Cup, the Arena Fonte Nova has a distinctive “horseshoe” area that will support 5,000 removable seats for the tournament only.

Perhaps worth noting is the fact that it was the first to secure a naming rights agreement among the 12 World Cup stadiums, with the Brazilian brewery Itaipava signing a sponsorship deal worth $100 million lasting until 2023.

Construction faults led to blind spots from several areas inside the stadium during its inaugural match, however, while heavy rain caused a section of the roof to collapse in May 2013, affecting this otherwise remarkable stadium’s ranking on our list due to safety issues.

 

Importance to the Community

Salvador’s central role in Brazilian entertainment will likely have been a big factor behind the decision to host World Cup matches in the city, while there are already longer-term plans for the stadium after this summer: It will be one of the venues used for the football competition in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

7. Arena Castelao (Fortaleza)

Fabio Lima/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Fortazela is one of three major cities in Brazil’s north-east alongside Recife and Salvador, both of which are also World Cup host cities this summer.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Castelao will play host to six matches this summer, including four group-stage matches, a round-of-16 match and a quarterfinal.

Besides featuring crowd favorites such as Uruguay, Germany and Ivory Coast, Fortaleza will also see the Brazilian national team play on home soil in a Group A game against Mexico, which is sure to be a spectacle.

 

Structural Features

The Arena Castelao seats an impressive 63,903 people and has been refurbished to make the World Cup this summer.

An interesting architectural feature is its glass skin, which reduces heat inside the stadium. Its huge roof is also coated with a material that “allows for the circulation of air in the stadium,” and “provides soundproofing and ideal shade for television broadcasting.”

 

Importance to the Community

Surprisingly, the Arena Castelao has hosted two large-scale and high-profile religious events. In 1980, Pope John Paul II brought 120,000 followers to the celebrations of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress at the stadium.

In 1995, 50,000 followers gathered for the farewell of Dom Aloisio Lorscheider, the archbishop of Fortaleza, confirming the stadium (then yet to be redeveloped) as an important center-piece in its citizens’ lives.

 

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

6. Itaipava Arena Pernambuco (Recife)

Ana Araujo/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Itaipava Arena Pernambuco is situated in the western suburbs of the Recife metropolitan area, one of the most important geographic locations in all of Brazil.

Recife itself is known as the Brazilian Venice, what with the rivers, small islands and more than 50 bridges found in its city center. Its famous 8km Boa Viagem Beach adds to its overall allure as an important cultural and leisure destination.

 

Game Significance

The Arena Pernambuco’s fixture list isn’t terribly impressive: Apart from four group-stage games that may throw up a few interesting twists in the World Cup, it will only host an additional round-of-16 match.

 

Structural Features

The seating capacity of the Arena is 46,000 and it’s a standard modern stadium designed to be accessible and convertible. There are plans for it to be used as a venue for concerts, conventions and other events after the World Cup.

The strong emphasis on sustainability impressed us. A solar power plant implemented in the stadium will generate 1MW of installed capacity and will be able to meet the average consumption of 6,000 people when the venue is not filled. Impressive.

 

Importance to the Community

One of the things that attracted us to Recife was its potential for a strong and positive legacy after the World Cup. According to the World Cup Portal, the Pernambuco represents the beginning of a new urban center named the “World Cup City,” a 242-hectare area that “aims to bring together housing, offices, educational institutions and leisure areas.”

The completed area will include a university campus, a hotel and convention center with other commercial, residential and entertainment complexes, and is predicted to generated 10,000 direct jobs until 2024. A noble effort if it ends up going through.

 

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

5. Arena Das Dunas (Natal)

Jobson Galdino/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Natal is well-known for its tourist attractions, with its natural scenic landscapes, beaches, historical monuments and the famous Carnatal, giving the city a unique aura.

The Arena das Dunas finished construction in January 2014, replacing the old Machadao football stadium that was demolished in 2011 to make way for the new project.

 

Game Significance

For a stadium of such breathtaking beauty, it is a travesty that it will only host one truly high-profile match (Italy vs. Uruguay in Group D) among its slated lineup of four group-stage matches.

 

Structural Features

Probably one of the most striking and visually stunning stadiums in World Cup history, the 42,000-seat Arena das Dunas features a facade and roof made up of 20 petal-shaped modules, “designed to be higher on one of the stadium’s side, giving the impression that sand dunes—common in the region—are moving,” according to the World Cup Portal.

Sustainability, now a key element in all stadium construction, also plays an important role in Natal’s World Cup stadium: Its roof captures rainwater, up to 3,000 cubic meters of which may be reused in its lavatories and for pitch irrigation.

 

Importance to the Community

Just like Recife project, the Arena das Dunas is planned to be the center of an exciting new district, featuring a shopping center, commercial buildings, world-class hotels and even an artificial lake.

 

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

4. Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha (Brasilia)

Tomas Faquini/Associated Press

Geographical Location

There aren’t many locations more high profile than a capital city, and that’s exactly what Brasilia is. A relatively recently planned and developed city, Brasilia provided a more central location for a capital city than Rio de Janeiro.

Given its political importance, Brasilia naturally pays less attention to football. Yet the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is still a force to be reckoned with.

 

Game Significance

The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha will live up to its capital-city billing and play host to seven matches this summer: four group-stage games, in addition to a round-of-16 match, a quarterfinal and the third-place match.

Out of the four group-stage matches, Colombia vs. Ivory Coast and Portugal vs. Ghana will provide two interesting spectacles.

 

Structural Features

Named after legendary Brazilian footballer Garrincha, the stadium is one of the most easily recognizable in Brazil and hosts a remarkable 71,000 people, making it the perfect venue for high-profile matches in the World Cup this summer.

Its distinctive UFO-like design, which looks like a narrow bowl supported by a multitude of columns around the side, adds to the myth that surrounds one of the most iconic venues in world football.

 

Importance to the Community

Unfortunately, this is where the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha loses out. Not only will football continue to play second fiddle to politics, but the stadium itself will court controversy due to the sheer amount of money invested in it.

According to this AP story, fraudulent billing has led to a huge increase in building cost: At $900 million, it is now the second-most expensive stadium in the world, despite there being no major professional team in Brasilia. Authorities will need to navigate the political minefield or risk having the first major demonstrations start right under their noses.

 

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

3. Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte)

Marcus Desimoni/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The Estadio Mineirao is the largest football stadium in the state of Minas Gerais, where Belo Horizonte is its most populous city.

Its bustling activity makes it one of the most important cities in the south-eastern region of Brazil, while its urban planning—inspired by that of Washington, D.C.—has won international accolades for urban revitalization and food security.

 

Game Significance

Now we’re getting right into the thick of the action. Besides hosting four group games, Belo Horizonte will also feature a round-of-16 match and a semifinal, making it one of the most high-profile venues in the World Cup.

 

Structural Features

The Estadio Mineirao first opened back in 1965, making it one of Brazil’s most iconic football stadiums in its long and illustrious history. Its post-refurbishment 62,160 seats make it one of the continent’s largest, while its distinctive circular, Coliseum-like structure make it one of the most recognizable venues in South America.

Once again, sustainability is the hip word of the moment: 90 percent of the rubble produced by the building site was reused, according to the World Cup Portal, while a rooftop solar power plant converts enough energy to cater to the demand of 1,200 medium-sized households. Not a bad feat at all.

 

Importance to the Community

By way of sheer longevity, the Estadio Mineirao has become an institution in the minds of the Brazilian football public.

The promenade area outside the stadium itself will be used as a social space to host events alongside leisure, cultural and sporting events staged inside the arena.

 

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

2. Arena De Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo)

Mauricio Simonetti/Associated Press

Geographical Location

The home stadium of Brazilian powerhouse Corinthians will be called Arena de Sao Paulo during the World Cup.

The city of Sao Paulo itself is well-known: It is the largest city in Brazil and plays a huge role in the country’s commercial, financial and entertainment activity.

 

Game Significance

Probably the second-most important stadium in terms of game significance this summer, the Arena de Sao Paulo will host four group games, including the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, as well as other heavy-hitters such as Uruguay vs. England, the Netherlands vs. Chile and South Korea vs. Belgium.

It will also host a round-of-16 match, as well as a semifinal.

 

Structural Features

For a stadium of such high profile and importance, the Arena de Sao Paulo actually has a surprisingly low standard capacity. It was only to meet the FIFA requirements for an opening-match stadium that 21,200 removable seats were added to form the current 68,000-seat capacity.

Structurally, it is one of the most impressive World Cup stadiums on show this summer. The stadium complex will feature a pedestrian mall as well as other spectacles such as a performance fountain and large gardens.

Stadium acoustics were also a key consideration during the planning and building of the stadium—it will duplicate the current noise level supporters create during games—while, as in several other host stadiums, rainwater reusability is a key sustainability feature.

The Sao Paulo project was awarded the Best Commercial Project and the Best Overall Project awards in the 2011 Grande Premio de Arquitetura Corporativa.

 

Importance to the Community

Public accessibility and capacity management are two of the most impressive features of the Arena de Sao Paulo.

Express trains will connect to the stadium during the World Cup, linking it to the city center in just 20 minutes, according to FIFA.com, while the metro and train stations have the capacity to handle 100,000 passengers an hour.

 

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio de Janeiro)

1. Estadio Do Maracana (Rio De Janeiro)

Daniel Basil/Associated Press

Geographical Location

Is it any surprise that the most high-profile stadium in Brazil will host the most-profile match in the World Cup this summer in its most high-profile city?

Rio de Janeiro is arguably Brazil’s most famous city—and deservedly so, given its iconic status in both tourism and popular culture. It’s known for its natural settings and historical monuments, while its beaches and carnival atmosphere only add to the cultural significance of the city.

 

Game Significance

You can’t get any bigger than this. Forget that the titular Group B clash between Spain and Chile will take place at the Estadio do Maracana; forget that six other matches will take place; the Maracana will host the final, which might very well feature the home nation.

 

Structural Features

Having first opened in 1950, the Maracana is probably the arena most steeped in Brazilian football tradition out of all the 12 World Cup stadiums, making it the perfect choice to host the showpiece event of the whole tournament.

A major reconstruction project was undertaken to prepare for the 2014 World Cup: A new one-tier seating bowl, featuring yellow, blue and white seats alongside the green pitch make up the Brazilian national colors, while a new fiberglass roof was installed.

 

Importance to the Community

To see the cultural importance of the Maracana to the Brazilian public, see the number of non-World Cup events that take place at the stadium.

Besides the record-breaking concerts put on by the likes of Paul McCartney and Madonna, the Maracana will also host both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2016 Summer Paralympics.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil Can Still Be the Best Ever

As we enter the final few months of the buildup to the 2014 World Cup, we’ve heard much about the current state of host nation Brazil and how behind it still is in terms of building the necessary infrastructure to successfully host and support a worldwide tournament and festival.

Just last week, FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke told BBC Sport that Brazil may not be “totally ready” for the start of the tournament due to building delays, with two stadiums in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo still not finished.

And with the current political climate in Europe, amid criticism of Russia’s recent actions following the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Qatar’s human rights record ahead of its own World Cup in 2022, Valcke has even gone as far as to emphasize FIFA’s political neutrality, per Al Jazeera:

FIFA is not the United Nations…We are not there to discuss with political authorities what they should do…We can discuss with them, and again be the platform for them to meet, to exchange and to make sure they are using football as a tool for change…But we cannot tell a country what should be [sic] their foreign policy. That’s not our role.

All of which has thrown a considerable spanner into the Brazilian works, as the country makes frantic last-minute preparations for the global event amid an unsteady domestic political climate.

For Brazil to put on a successful World Cup, 64 years after it was last hosted on home soil, no doubt there are still major hurdles to overcome—not to mention many people to convince.

Yet lost amid all the negative news is the undeniable prospect of a fervent and vibrant tournament, of a famed Brazilian party, of a mouthwatering tournament featuring footballing talent in abundance on the pitch—and the underlying possibility that the 2014 World Cup can still be the best ever.

 

Leo Correa

 

A National Legacy

Let’s begin by looking at the positive impact that FIFA can bring with its local programs in conjunction with the tournament itself.

Its recent announcement of a $1 million television production internship program for Brazilian students, allowing them the chance to gain “invaluable work experience at the world’s biggest single-sport event,” is a glimpse at the “legacy” impacts that FIFA has now made a big part of its tournament-hosting packages.

By involving local students and providing technical and professional training in a sure-to-be exciting opportunity for local youth, FIFA has laid the groundwork for a potential boom in interest in the international sports business and the financial workings of a global tournament—quite in contrast to the uneasy local sentiment on show during the Confederations Cup last summer.

Looking at the legacy factor from a macro, country-level perspective, the Brazilian government forecasts, via Fox News Latino, that the World Cup itself will generate around 62.1 billion reais ($27.7 billion) in revenue, three times its income from the Confederations Cup.

The significant economic impact from the boom in tourism has been projected to include a total number of 3.6 million visitors to the country and an increase of 47,900 jobs in the tourist and recreation sectors, which would be a considerable injection of activity and revenue into Brazil’s GDP.

Alongside the inevitable focus on consumption on Brazilian soil, the Brazilian government has also launched advertising drives to highlight its other attractions, including “the Iguassu Falls, eco-holidays in the Amazon, the historic city of Salvador and Brasilia,” according to the BBC, as well as to draw attention to its capacity and capability to host global events and conferences.

Said Marcelo Pedros, the director of international markets for Embratur, the Brazilian Tourist Board:

Everyone knows that Brazil can play football and throw a party, but we want to show just how well we can organize international events. When Germany held the World Cup in 2006 it was the other way round. Everyone knew they would be well organized, but could they hold a party? They did, and it was very successful. We are going to prove the same success with Brazil’s organization skills.

And, of course, there is the small matter of the tournament kicking off on Brazil’s own Lovers’ Day, which, according to the Metro, is already capturing the imagination of many an innovative and entrepreneur.

 

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

 

An Unpredictable Contest

We’ve managed to come this far without even mentioning the football due to be on show in Brazil, which is a strong testament to the off-pitch factors that could see Brazil become the biggest and most successful global party yet.

But while the World Cup has arguably evolved from a pure celebration of football into a money-making exercise, at its heart football is still the beautiful game, and we could well be looking at one of the most exciting iterations of the tournament of all time, given the unpredictability of the contest this summer.

As football fans look ahead to the 2014 World Cup, many questions will no doubt pop into their minds. Who will rise to the top this year? Will Neymar confirm his status as the next big thing in football by bringing his country the World Cup at home? Or will Lionel Messi finally deliver a World Cup to secure his place in the pantheon of all-time greats?

Will Spain continue their recent dominance with a fourth successive win in a World Cup or a European Championship tournament? Or will Germany’s youth revolution end its own wait for a world title?

What about the dark horses—will Belgium’s new golden generation fulfill their potential as they look to take the World Cup by storm? Or will Uruguay better their last-four performance in 2010? Is it time for an African team to go all the way? Or will England finally get over their quarterfinal hoodoo and fire their way into the final?

The presence of so many international stars on Brazilian soil—the mythical Zlatan Ibrahimovic excepted, due to Sweden’s playoff loss to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portgual—will bring unprecedented levels of global coverage (and, of course, incessant marketing and advertising efforts), which will in turn drive up interest in the tournament around the world.

Even the statistic, tactic and formation buffs will be treated to an event of gigantic proportions, as the proliferation of data analysis in football will no doubt boost intelligent debate and substantiated discussion around the contest unfolding on the pitch. The different ideologies and philosophies adopted by different national teams may finally see distinct national “identities” form around the ball.

And we haven’t even gotten to the prospect of a nerve-wracking penalty shootout or a new Zinedine Zidane-esque flashpoint.

 

Handout/Getty Images

 

A Glimpse into the Future

All the talk so far has been of the present, but while the World Cup doesn’t involve the next host nation putting on a “teaser trailer” show to close out the current tournament—unlike the Olympics—one eye, as ever, should be kept on the future.

And this World Cup finds itself in a fascinating intersection between the old and the new.

On the pitch, what could be better for Brazil than to have traditional rivals Uruguay resurface as a strong contender? Or a new-look Argentina side to prove its dominance and legacy with Messi at the helm?

The prospect of a new Brazil team headed by Neymar winning on home soil is one that can’t be ignored—and no doubt one that would kick off an unprecedented party—while the recent dominance of Spain may start to make way for teams of the future.

We will get to witness the platform that Belgium may well set for itself in international football, while England is set to usher in a new generation of young talent following what will be a transitional tournament. And as ever, there are plenty of new names we might not have even heard of yet who will catapult themselves into the spotlight over just a few weeks in Brazil.

In the stadiums and on the streets, the local mood may well be poignant, as Brazil recalls hosting its last World Cup 64 years ago and considers the development and turmoil it’s gone through in that time.

From a traditional footballing heyday in 1950 to a global commercial extravaganza, those who have followed the tournament in years gone by may yet witness another chapter in the ongoing evolution of the World Cup as an event.

The fascination of welcoming visitors from around the world and partaking in a joint experience of an international tournament at home may inspire a new generation of Brazilian youngsters to not only embrace the power and potential of the simple game of football but also to serve the greater good of their nation through business and global collaboration.

And finally, Germany 2006 was a return to familiar European territory between two groundbreaking tournaments in Asia (Korea/Japan 2002) and Africa (South Africa 2010), while Brazil 2014 will be the last tournament to be hosted in a region with World Cup experience: The next two World Cups, if all goes according to plan, will be held in new frontiers—Russia (2018) and the Middle East (Qatar 2022).

For FIFA as much as for Brazil—depending on how this year’s event goes—the World Cup will be a key milestone and provide a glimpse into an exciting or murky future.

For if Brazil successfully overcomes its last-minute hurdles and political differences and ends up hosting an excellent tournament, we can all look forward to successfully charting new territory in the years to come.

South Africa did it. Why not Brazil?

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Why Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling Should Go to the World Cup

In light of the unfortunate news of Theo Walcott’s long-term injury, sustained in Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup and effectively ruling him out of the World Cup, as reported by BBC Sport, Roy Hodgson could be forgiven for feeling just a bit worried.

With Walcott out of contention and Jermain Defoe supposedly nearing a move to MLS’ Toronto FC, according to Sky Sports, the most experienced English forward Hodgson has at his disposal after Wayne Rooney is fellow Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck, on 20 caps.

Other options available for selection include Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge (nine caps) and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert (four): not the most experienced or deepest forward line in England history by any stretch of the imagination.

The good news, however, is that England can make up for their shortage up front by strengthening their midfield and wings. A healthy mix of experience and youth in the midfield would now be grateful for an injection of quality ahead of the World Cup.

Step forward Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, who would provide just that. Here are five reasons they should make it into Roy Hodgson’s squad that will be heading to Brazil this summer.

 

Deserved Reward for Improvement

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Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesAsk any Liverpool fan about their best player this season, and second to Luis Suarez, who will deservedly take the plaudits from his scintillating record thus far, will be Jordan Henderson, who has been ever-present in Brendan Rodgers’ first team.

It wasn’t too long ago that Henderson was being written off as a £16 million flop, following a couple of indifferent seasons after his switch from Sunderland. That Rodgers was about to send him off to Fulham in the summer of 2012 is well-known; that Henderson has bounced back from all these setbacks is just as impressive.

Not only has Henderson finally found the confidence and form of his Sunderland days, but he’s seemingly added to his arsenal as well. Besides his legendary work rate and positional discipline, he’s added a touch of flair to his game as well: His back-heels, crosses and incisive passing have been a crucial element to the Reds’ final third; a record of five assists in 20 games thus far already betters his tally (four) last term.

The same applies to Raheem Sterling, who, besides storming back to the form he showed in the first few months of his debut season, has added a maturing awareness and clinicality to his game. Three goals and two assists in just nine starts this season is an impressive record for the young winger, still only 19.

In an England team short of full quality, what better than to reward these two up-and-coming talents with a place on the World Cup squad? Their development this season is evident; if they continue their rise in form and improve on their shortcomings—finishing is definitely on the agenda—then there’s no reason they wouldn’t be able to make an impact in Brazil.

 

Youth, Energy and a Different Dimension

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Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesHere are a few of England’s regular midfielders and wingers: Steven Gerrard (captain), Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Young. Others, like Tom Cleverley, Jack Wilshere and especially Adam Lallana and Andros Townsend are relative novices to the international scene.

The problem with the first-choice midfield, as we saw at Euro 2012, is that it’s not bursting at the seams with pace and stamina. Sure, Gerrard, Lampard and Carrick are all capable of dictating play from deep, and the former two are of course known for their ability to go forward and get themselves a goal, but it’s a midfield that can be caught out of position and brushed aside quite easily.

As evidenced by England’s recent international games, Roy Hodgson also recognizes the need to move away from the traditional two banks of four in a 4-4-2 system, which can easily be exploited by teams with powerful and quick midfields: Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica will pose an interesting challenge.

Even out on the wing, though he can also operate centrally, James Milner is not the fastest of players, and as such, he doesn’t offer as much of a cutting edge as Hodgson would like—even though his all-round contributions are important.

With the introduction of Henderson and Sterling, England would get two players with the pace and stamina to both pressure and hurt teams. While in Gerrard and Lampard, England possess two world-class set-piece specialists, adding youth, energy and pace that would allow the Three Lions to develop other areas of their game.

On a potential counterattack, which England should surely take full advantage of given their pacy forwards in Rooney and Sturridge, having a midfield runner like Henderson carry the ball on the floor, and having another winger like Sterling to break open the defence, would be valuable assets in Hodgson’s disposal.

 

Contributions to Overall Play

 

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Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesWhen it comes to the midfield area, an especially useful description these days is “complete.”

Predominantly defensive midfielders should be capable of nicking a goal here and there, and attack-minded ones should also be able to track back and do some of the dog work to alleviate pressure off his team.

While Young and Townsend are known for their relative speed, they also don’t do quite as much work for the team defensively and thus may be prone to leaving gaps out wide, leaving defensive burdens for England’s full-backs. Gerrard and Lampard have shown signs of their age catching up to them this season, and their forays forward may leave holes in the central area that opponents can exploit on the break.

It is here that Henderson and Sterling step in and offer their impressive blend of athleticism, technique and defensive work. Often played as the furthest forward midfielder in Brendan Rodgers’ setup, Henderson has been a fine second line of defence (after the excellent Suarez and his harrying up front), while Sterling has exhibited on many occasions this season his willingness to track back and an underrated tackling ability.

Add their potential contributions in attack (especially Sterling, with his well-timed runs in behind opposing defences), and they represent two fine all-round attacking players that would make for a well-balanced team. Milner and Wilshere also fit the mold and would be perfect partners in an interchangeable, dynamic midfield unit.

 

The Liverpool Connection

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Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesIn the summer of 2012, Roy Hodgson was widely ridiculed for his supposed preference for Liverpool players. After all, in his squad of 23, he included six Reds, and the likes of Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson hadn’t enjoyed the best of seasons at Anfield.

This time around, though, it’s completely different. While Glen Johnson hasn’t enjoyed the best of seasons down Liverpool’s right, he should make the plane to Brazil barring any extraordinary circumstance. Otherwise, Steven Gerrard is the England captain and Daniel Sturridge one of their newest striking hopes.

So the Liverpool contingent in the England squad will likely be used heavily in Brazil, which makes Henderson and Sterling potentially important additions to the team.

Henderson’s partnership with Gerrard this season has caught the eye: The way Henderson has assumed Gerrard’s famed lung-busting and swashbuckling attacking midfield play, and the ease with which the Liverpool captain has assumed his registaduties, harks back to the famous Gerrard-Xabi Alonso partnership during Rafael Benitez’s halcyon days.

Sterling’s combination play with Johnson down the Reds’ right flank will also come in handy, while Henderson and Gerrard will have been used to Sterling’s runs off the shoulders of the last defender. It remains to be seen how Brendan Rodgers will juggle his attacking line once Sturridge returns to full fitness, but Sterling should also have plenty of chances to dovetail with Sturridge in the coming months.

 

Ushering in a New Golden Generation

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Michael Steele/Getty ImagesWhen the tag “Golden Generation” is mentioned in the context of the English national team, most reactions are of disappointment and frustration, such is the extent to which the current crop underwhelmed in major tournaments.

But it’s not that the term itself has any negative connotations—far from it. In fact, when the right infrastructure is put in place to groom a generation, it may well provide the platform from which to grow said “golden” era. The likes of Spain and Germany, not to mention many European club teams now, are living examples of such long-term thinking.

As Hodgson and England prepare for the swansongs of Gerrard and Lampard and usher out the old guard, so the new generation comes in and looks for ways to grow as a collective unit. And what better than to start with the World Cup?

Alongside the likes of Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Ross Barkley (among others), Henderson and Sterling are in prime position to cement themselves as England regulars in the coming years as they continue to mature in international tournaments to come.

While England must look immediately at doing as best as they can in the World Cup, Hodgson would do well to start immersing some of his young, precocious talent in preparation for future competitions. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling this season, it’s that they certainly won’t let their manager down.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

The Football Business Column: The Money that Goes to Agents, Technology and Stadiums

football agents

The Money that goes to Agents

We can’t go anywhere in football without hearing about the money side of the game, such is the prevalence of commerce, sponsorships and brand partnerships, and the importance of financial might and ambition. So when it was announced this summer that the Premier League spent a record £630 million in the transfer window, no one really batted an eye.

It couldn’t have come as a big surprise though, given the enormous TV deals that were secured by the Premier League with broadcasters Sky and BT Sport. After all, the number of big signings and the amount of big money being flown around this summer—not least that mind-boggling world record deal for Gareth Bale—showed that money has become less and less of an object to Premier League clubs. (Crystal Palace paid £8.5 million for a League One player, Dwight Gayle from Peterborough.) It turns out, though, that it’s not just the Premier League, and it’s not just the signing fees.

As we saw from the Neymar megadeal to Barcelona, there are (too) many parties involved in a transfer deal. There are “investors”, “stakeholders”, agreements to play friendlies, first-option commitments and, of course, agents. And when your dad happens to be your agent and you happen to be Neymar, your family can suddenly become €40 million richer.

But it’s not just in conjunction with the biggest names in football that agent fees are considerable. The Football League released a report last week on agent fees at the Championship, League One and League Two levels, and the results were quite staggering. In the 2012/13 Championship season, 23 clubs (Blackpool excepted) paid a total of over £18.5 million in agent fees for 431 agent-involved deals, meaning that, on average, each club spent over £800,000 in payments to agents and each deal cost £43,000.

And that’s just at the Championship level. We await (dread) the official numbers affiliated with the Premier League for more discussion (depression). We haven’t even asked the all-important question yet: Are agents even worth it? (Blackburn Rovers spent over £3.5 million in agent fees—which is more than enough for a quality Championship-level player—and ended the season closer to relegation.)

The Money that goes to Technology

When we talk about money in the Premier League, the topic inevitably focuses on the lack of it spent on youth development and as such the promotion of homegrown talent, which adversely affects the performance of the English national team. And we all know the history of underachievement of said English national team in international tournaments, specifically in penalty shootouts, quite unlike their Premier League counterparts.

Fear not: Money can also be a solution there! Need to provide players with a simulated match environment? With a realistic atmosphere like a World Cup Finals penalty shootout? No problem. Engineering company BAE Systems are currently working with UK Sport, “the UK’s high performance sports agency,” to produce virtual reality simulators for Olympians and Paralympians to better prepare them for real-life tournament scenarios, and according to this Guardian report, this technology could be on its way to football as well.

And why not? Given the amount of money devoted to the mental and physical side of football these days—there’s also the sports science side, which has led to the spawning of many a sports science department at major football clubs, as well as the data analysis side—it’s only natural to see money being thrown at technology that can give teams and players that slight extra chance of success.

But is it really that smooth-sailing? Will virtual reality be able to compare to a real-world penalty shootout environment where everything is at stake? Unless BAE add a feature that projects a virtual reality of burning effigies in the penalty takers’ minds, it might not be enough…

The Money that goes to Stadiums

As ever, England isn’t the only country with huge financial burdens in football. Let’s cross the Atlantic for a moment and look at Major League Soccer, where DC United’s proposed new stadium has attracted criticism for its fee.

$300 million is the sum in question for the Buzzard Point, Washington DC location, and while there are obvious benefits to fans of the club and league, the mooted amount has been met with significant criticism from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, who will have had the current economic climate in mind.

It’s not only in the US where public spending on stadiums have attracted scorn. The 2013 Confederations Cup this summer was marred by public rioting and protesting in Brazil throughout the tournament, against the Brazilian government’s extravagant expenditure on stadiums for next summer’s World Cup and 2016’s Olympics. A total of almost $17 billion is estimated to be spent in conjunction with these two events, and well, there could be a variety of things that this money could be used on otherwise.

But even that is a drop in the ocean compared to Qatar (or should that be a grain of sand in the desert?), who will be spending a whopping £134 billion on their controversial 2022 World Cup tournament, the Middle East’s first ever. How’s that for stadium spending?

 

This piece was part of my new biweekly column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.