From World Cup 2018 to World Cup 2026

Another World Cup is over. FIFA will publish a Technical Report soon discussing the various ways the teams played. What did we learn from this World Cup so that in eight years when the World Cup is on home soil the USA would at least play a semifinal? 

  1. The size of the country or the number of registered players does not carry a great value in determining the best national teams in the World. Otherwise Croatia (population:  4.28 million) would not have finished second and Belgium (population: 11.3 Million) third in this World Cup. I am not even mentioning Iceland (population: 350,000). If the population of the country had a direct impact on the FIFA rankings then the most populous countries -- China (ranked: 75) and India (ranked: 97) -- would have better rankings. USA has somewhere between 3 to 4 million registered players. This is number is way higher than any of the four semifinalists’ registered players. Recently there had been concerns about the stagnation of the number of registered soccer players. Most probably this is true of most team sports in the USA. Our youth system relies on numbers namely quantity – rather than quality. Each registered player increases the income of the association as well as its representation in the state and U.S. Soccer councils. As long as there is no training compensation/solidarity payment or a similar reward mechanism by US Soccer to clubs who develop NT players, the clubs have to rely on more registered players in our pay-to-play system. As long as the system of player development is not changed by rewarding quality rather than quantity; as long as the system leaves talented kids out of the system due to high costs of player development increased number of registered players will not be too meaningful towards the success of our MNTs. The key element is how you develop them and how you embrace them across financial, ethnical and social barriers.

Bottom Line: We should define, design and implement systems that reward quality for clubs and associations.

  1. Europe had a sustained its superiority over Latin America. This World Cup has eliminated the concept of teams built around stars. The new trend is team play, compact defense and the transition game. Increased number of goals from set plays is a result of national team play and should not be related to this World Cup. Teams that played in the semifinals all had good tactical understanding, incredible fitness to play 90 minutes or more if needed and all the players were very good in their ball playing techniques. Teams that relied on athleticism – like Iceland, Denmark and Sweden – had limited success. Teams that had talented players but lacked tactical understanding and team discipline – like Egypt, South Korea, and Morocco - did not go past the group stage. Teams with stars (Neymar –- Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo –- Portugal, Lionel Messi –- Argentina) relied on their stars more than their tactical approach to the games. None of them made it to the semifinals. MVP of the World Cup was a 33-year-old midfielder from Croatia who ran more than any other player in the tournament. Luka Modric's soft touch of the ball and long and effective passes was worthy of new born star although he is now 33. The second youngest team in World Cup won the World Cup. The third youngest team finished fourth. Most of the players that played in the final did not play in their own national leagues.  

What we have to understand is that we need to blend athleticism -- which U.S. national team players do have – with good ball playing techniques that are inherent in Hispanic players. We have to rely on young players and we do have a good number of them. U.S. national team players have an aptitude of adhering to team discipline and tactics. Looking into the last friendly game with the World Cup winners and previous games against the “big” national teams, we know how to defend. Our problem in the modern game is our transition and attacking game. For that you need fast players with high ball playing techniques; this is where were we are short currently.

Bottom Line: We should define, design and implement systems that develop and scout players that the modern game wants as manifested by the World Cup 2018 

  1. World Cup 2018 taught us the importance of diversity and inclusion. The three semifinalists (France, Belgium and England) had an abundance of players from immigrant families. Not only did they have an abundance of immigrant players but so did the national teams of Switzerland, Germany and, although not qualified, the Netherlands. Denmark and Sweden had a few also. The most famous Swedish player comes from an immigrant family: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The 2014 World Cup winner Germany had six immigrants in its roster. One has to look at the history of Europe to understand this phenomenon. First off, all of the countries mentioned above are developed industrialized western European countries. Croatia, which does not have immigrant players, does not fall into this category. Most of the countries listed have colonial pasts. So most of the immigrants come to these countries from its former colonies where there is usually a common language. Also after the World War II, in the '60s, some of those countries needed blue-color workers to work in coal mines, car industry etc. A big group of workers -– called gastarbeiters –- migrated to some of these countries from Turkey, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy and even Spain. You can see some of their sons, grandsons playing for national teams of various countries. Also during the 60’s, France had a wave of immigrants from North Africa. These countries are some of the richest countries on earth. The representation of immigrants in their national teams outweighs their representations in the general population. One might ask why there are so many immigrants in the men's national teams far more than their representations in the countries’ populations.  Or one might ask why there are less Western European players from non-immigrant families on the men's national teams. One is the fact that soccer is predominantly a blue-collar worker's game. Immigrant players by a wide margin come from blue-collar worker families. They mostly reside either in the inner cities or “banlieues” of large cities. The western European kids from non-immigrant families come mostly from white-color worker families and their choice of sport is not usually soccer. Both types of kids have grown up in a soccer culture so there is no much difference there. The free-to-play nature of soccer in Europe makes the game easily accessible to all regardless of income. For most families which come from working-class background being successful in soccer might be a way up. Through soccer they have a hope of leading the lives of their dreams. As Coach Rene Silas of Richmond Oilers said: “the poorer kids have a fiery passion for the sport.”  For the kids of from non-immigrant families of Western Europe there are other alternative pathways of becoming wealthy and leading a prosperous life.  On the other hand soccer might be the only way out of their hard lives for immigrants and hence they will give their all. 

If you come to this side of the Atlantic in the country of immigrants the USA organized soccer is not an immigrants’ sport.  A study carried out in 2015 by Kaplan and Bennett concludes that: “The soccer players (USMNT) came from communities that had higher incomes, education and employment rankings, and were whiter than the U.S. average. The NBA and NFL players came from communities that ranked lower than average on those same indicators.” Although a study has not been done on the U.S. national team’s breakdown on Whites, African-Americans and Hispanics one can easily see that the proportions usually reflect the race nature of our society. Until very recently, we do not observe an abundance of immigrants in our men's national teams like one does in Europe.  Very recently, of the 24 players the USA took to play against France and Ireland, 10 are the children of immigrants and 16 are either African-American or Hispanic.  We still do not know what social background these 16 come from but there is some positive change with the younger generations. The immigrants of the USA are usually from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Unlike their counterparts in Europe, they do not dominate the organized soccer landscape. Although hundreds of thousands of them play in “pirate” leagues, a small portion of them play organized soccer. Hopefull,y the success of the diversity of players in the European national teams will lead the way to embrace our immigrant kids by our system. Diversity brought European soccer a different vision in the last 20 years; we will hope the same for soccer in our country.

Bottom Line: We should define, design and implement systems that do not leave a single talented kid – regardless of his/her income, race, cultural barriers he/she faces - out of the system.

Ahmet Guvener ( is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, TX.

2 comments about "From World Cup 2018 to World Cup 2026".
  1. beautiful game, August 3, 2018 at 10:17 a.m.

    This "immigration" discourse et al carries no weight unless the development system works and is focused on each and every player with potential. Still waiting for that system to be implemented.

  2. frank schoon, August 3, 2018 at 10:33 a.m.

    "World Cup 2018 taught us the importance of diversity and inclusion. The three semifinalists (France, Belgium and England) had an abundance of players from immigrant families.">
    It might have taught those and perhaps opened the eyes of those who know little about "inclusion and diversity" as pertaining to these countries. These countries like Holland have so many immigrants representing in their professional soccer leagues over the past 40years. France has had so many players in their pro-league from North Africa..remember Marius Tresor the great libero of St.Ettiene, back in the 70's, or how 'bout Jean Tigana,  or Zidane, just to name a couple of greats....French always had plenty of immigrants representing their soccer. Belgium, idem ditto, many came from Africa, from the Congo,so many over the years. Going back Into the '70's/80's Holland,  Ruud Gullit ,Vanenburg , Tahamata, famous ones,not to mention the many others not so famous ones who also represented and played dutch soccer over the past 40 years. And England, idem ditto, look it up....
    To me the WC'18 did not teach me about the importance about 'inclusion and diversity", perhaps to the "feel good" crowd who need to see and judge everything according to culture, color, and how many toes and fingers a certain group has; instead it is all about GOOD Training and Coaching...that's what it is all about, for without that even bringing players in from planet Mars won't do you any good.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications