KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON: One of David Gill’s qualities, which would have served him especially effectively during his tenure as chief executive of Manchester United, is the ability to turn the most dramatic football crisis into a ‘mere’ issue.
Gill is now focusing that skill on the divisive drama surrounding the hosting of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
As a vice-chairman of the Football Association, a director now of Manchester United and an executive committee member of UEFA, Gill sits in the eye of the storm.
This should not prove beyond a man who has lately spent more than a decade juggling, simultaneously, the managerial demands of Sir Alex Ferguson, the contractual egos of multi-million players, the delicacy of transfer negotiations, the expectations of trophy-spoiled fans and the day-to-day health of a sporting financial juggernaut.
Gill was in Dubrovnik this past week attending the European federation’s autumn strategy meeting. One of its conclusions was portrayed in the media as an aggressively unanimous vote in favour of a winter World Cup after the fig-leaf of ‘full discussions’ to decide precisely which winter months (hardly a vast choice).
However Gill presented a subtly different nuance in an interview with BBC Radio Five.
He said: “No dates were discussed at the meeting. What happened was that the 54 association presidents decided that they weren’t against playing the World Cup in the winter – and that was all that was decided.
“The position was ratified by the UEFA executive committee and, at the upcoming FIFA executive committee in early October, no doubt it will be discussed there. It’s up to FIFA.
“The important message out of UEFA was that no decision is to be made at this time. The work has to be done and has to involve all stakeholders within the game, whether associations, clubs, players, leagues etc. It’s only through that work that the final decision can be made.”
The significance of Gill’s role in negotiations ahead is that he is a senior figure in the FA which wants a switch but also a senior figure within the Premier League which opposes a switch.
The possibility of FIFA shifting the World Cup out of Qatar altogether “wasn’t debated at length.” Hence the importance, to Gill, of the C-word.
He said: “There has to be two things: One is compromise from all parties if this change is to be made. Maybe FIFA has to reduce the player call-up period, the FA may have to give up [FA Cup] replays in a particular season, clubs may have to forgo lucrative pre-season tours to fit into a crowded calendar.
“The other key thing is it needs to be limited to a one-season impact. I know the Premier League has talked about it impacting on three seasons but I believe it can be sorted to impact on only one.
“The World Cup has been a traditional part of the calendar in the summer and a move, if it is to be made, has to involve compromise from all parties. For example, UEFA may have to move the Champions League round of 16 from four weeks as now to two weeks.
“If everyone goes in with that attitude it’s possible to come up with a solution which is acceptable to everyone.
“But it cannot be foisted upon football, saying: ‘That’s it, get on with it.’ If people are open-minded and recognise that there is going to have to be compromise . . . we can come up with a solution.”
UEFA might do worse that entrust Gill to head up those negotiations.