Football: Former All Whites skipper Ryan Nelsen stands firmly behind FIFA's biennial World Cup proposal

By Clay Wilson for RNZ

All Whites great Ryan Nelsen is clear where he stands on a potential change that is capturing the attention of the football world.

Global governing body Fifa, via a project led by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wegner, is exploring holding the World Cup every two years, instead of every four.

The latest step in the process was taking place in Qatar this week.

Famous former players and coaches had gathered alongside Wegner, Fifa's chief of global development, and Fifa president Gianni Infantino to further discuss the proposal as part of a refreshed international match calendar.

Among that group of stars, which included the likes of Brazilians Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos and Englishmen John Terry and Michael Owen, was Nelsen.

The former national captain led the team to the 2010 World Cup, the second of just two appearances the country had made at the event.

The latter, just one reason Nelson was backing the idea to alter the cycle of the world's biggest sports tournament, with continental championships held in the 'in-between' years.

"Some will say it devalues it. But does it?" the veteran of almost a decade in the English Premier League told RNZ.

"The Champions League, NBA, Super Bowl are all every year and it doesn't devalue them.

"It's the greatest sporting event on earth ... [but] 90 percent of the world's countries don't get to go to the World Cup.

"In a way, it's actually too prestigious."

The most powerful person in the game was also keen to get the discussion moving.

Fifa president Infantino says the current match calendar had "reached some limits" and they hoped to finalise the process by the end of this year.

The whole concept, though, was being met with stiff resistance from one of the powerbases of the sport.

Many European administrators and fans had made their opposition clear and the president of the confederation's governing body UEFA, Aleksander Ceferin, has expressed "grave concerns".

But 166 of Fifa's 211 national associations weren't so dismissive, voting in May for the ongoing feasibility study to go ahead.

Nelsen says that was good news for the country he represented 49 times, which would benefit if the idea became reality.

"Imagine New Zealand potentially vying for a World Cup every two years … think what that does for the football community.

"What it also does is bring extra revenue that gets distributed around the world so all these countries can build better foundations and structure.

"New Zealand Football will be able to have better academies, the coaching will get better and it will bring everybody up.

"It's an amazing opportunity and what it might also do is change the whole sporting landscape. What does rugby do? What do all the other sports do?"

Gianni Infantino - FIFA president
Gianni Infantino - FIFA president Photo credit: Reuters

Another key component to the proposal was eliminating many of the 'friendly' matches played between international teams.

Cricket has taken a similar approach with the introduction of the World Test Championship.

An avid Blackcaps fan, Nelsen says he watched almost every ball of the team's journey to the inaugural title because of the extra emphasis the new competition had given the sport.

"All these rugby fans used to say to me 'you guys play friendlies, what are friendlies?'. And they're right, they're just part of filling the calendar.

"This way, you're just playing competitive qualifying games to get you to a big tournament happening every European summer.

"The meaningless friendly, where players have to fly all around the world … are fans really that interested?"

Nelsen urged football fans to look to the future as they considered the idea.

He says the World Cup had only been played every four years because organisers had copied the Olympic calendar, which was implemented when travelling across the world meant six months on a ship.

"The world is moving at quicker pace now. It's smaller.

"Just because it's happened for the last 50 years, doesn't mean it's right. "We've got to be progressive enough to say 'OK, what is it going to look like in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years' time'.

"I love this type of thinking because it's looking to the future. It's not just saying we've done this before so it's fine, we'll keep doing it."

Former US women's coach Jill Ellis, who led the team to back-to-back World Cup titles, was leading a similar project looking at holding the women's tournament every two years.

Excluding 1942 and 1946 because of World War II, the men's World Cup had been a four-yearly tournament since the inaugural event in 1930.

The women's event began in 1991 and had also been held every four years since.