The European game has never had such a disrupted season in the 134 years since league soccer began in England.
FIFA’s decision to move the World Cup from the normal offseason months of November and December to avoid the desert heat will cut into the European domestic season in ways unseen outside of international traumas such as war or pandemic.
As a result, the unusual 2022-23 European season will begin earlier, include more midweek games, and conclude with the Champions League final on June 10 – the latest planned date since the inaugural European Cup final on June 13, 1956.
It will also necessitate lengthy midseason breaks in domestic leagues, ranging from six weeks in the English Premier League to a 10-week shutdown in Germany’s Bundesliga and three months in Austria, where the World Cup extends the country’s usual winter break.
Closing during peak commercial weeks was the reluctant compromise accepted by European leagues and clubs in 2015. Then, predictably, FIFA shifted its marquee event out of the traditional June-July window that is part of soccer’s global rhythm.
In June, daily temperatures in Doha routinely exceeded 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) and rarely fell below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) at night.
It would have been a scorching World Cup for 32 teams, nearly three million stadium fans, and the tens of thousands of staff, volunteers, and media required for a major tournament.
Even in 2010, when the FIFA executive committee (now widely discredited by corruption scandals) voted for Qatar to host the first World Cup in the Middle East, the need to change the schedule was obvious.
With no kickoffs before 6 p.m., tournament temperatures should settle around 80-90 F (26-32 C) at game times. when the third round of group games begins on November 29.
Nonetheless, it is a shorter World Cup, with 64 games to be played in just 28 days, four days less than in 2018.
Because European leagues refused to give up a valuable extra weekend in November, FIFA was forced to do so.
The majority of European clubs will play on the weekend of November 12-13, just eight days before the World Cup begins.
To make that work, World Cup organizers had to schedule four games per day for the first two group-stage rounds, rather than three. This allows viewers to watch a television marathon and players to rest for at least three days between games.
To win the World Cup, a team in Group G or H, such as Brazil or Portugal, must play seven games in just 25 days. They do, however, get extra days in training camp to prepare. The Netherlands kicks off the tournament against Senegal on November 21, putting its players based in England, such as Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk, on a tight schedule.
It also follows a compressed Champions League schedule, with all six group rounds of the competition to be played between September 6 and November 2 to finish the group stage five weeks earlier than usual.
The season-long congestion follows the COVID-19 pandemic, which nearly halted the 2019-20 season. It was saved by a two-games-per-week workload, which is now standard.
As a result of the rescheduling, European soccer has lost high-value commercial weeks in November and December, with more games being played during the less lucrative summer months.
“Selling rates for pay-TV subscriptions are lower in the summer,” Jacco Swart, managing director of the European Leagues group of 30 countries, told the Associated Press. He also mentioned that August is a popular vacation month in much of southern Europe, so stadium attendance may be lower.
Last month, Serie A president Lorenzo Casini warned that an Aug. 13 start would be difficult due to the high temperatures.
Until September, top-tier games in Italy and Spain will not begin before 5 p.m. These rules out lunchtime kickoffs, which are ideal for Asian broadcasters.
Italy, like Austria and Turkey, has the additional problem of having no top-tier domestic games to compensate for failing to qualify for the World Cup. Among the challenges, there are opportunities for leagues like England’s second-tier Championship. It restarts on Dec. 10 with back-to-back weekends facing no competition from Premier League fixtures.