...Montagliani says new paths provide world of possibilities
MONTAGLIANI...one thing we needed in our region was more opportunities for the young players — male and female — and we are providing that through increasing our platforms. (Photo: Observer file)

Boss Victor Montagliani spoke of the new format changes for Concacaf's senior men's competitions with the swagger befitting a man on top of his game.

The recent announcement is another slick move by the confederation in an active regime that continues to build up and out the development and competition planks guided by its "Football First" philosophy.

The format changes, by all indications, have been executed in the Nations League, Gold Cup, and qualifiers for FIFA World Cup 2026 — widely viewed as inclusive and uplifting in its design and purpose.

In a nutshell, the deep and wide-ranging changes will impact the 2023/2024 edition of the Concacaf Nations League (CNL), which has been revamped to include more direct elimination matches that will qualify teams to continental summer competitions.

This will provide the qualification route for Concacaf's six competing teams in the 2024 CONMEBOL Copa America. The 2024/25 CNL will qualify teams to the 2025 Gold Cup.

The competition will continue to be played in a three-league format (A, B, and C), where the region's 41 men's senior national teams will be distributed into the leagues according to the results of the preceding CNL edition. The 2024/25 CNL edition will serve as the qualifying competition for the 2025 Concacaf Gold Cup, but details regarding the qualification process will be announced later.

With regards to the World Cup allotment for Concacaf with an expanded tournament of 48 teams, the FIFA Council in February confirmed that the three hosts — Canada, Mexico, and the United States — will automatically qualify, and further announced that Concacaf will have an additional three direct qualification berths and two FIFA intercontinental play-off berth possibilities.

Concacaf could have up to eight participating federations at the next edition of the FIFA World Cup.

"The new announcements are in keeping with our philosophy of just providing more competition. At the end of the day, one thing we needed in our region was more opportunities for the young players — male and female — and we are providing that through increasing our platforms.

"But we're not leaving our members on their own as we are also providing better support, whether it be in travel subsides or logistics, and so it's all coming together," Montagliani told the Jamaica Observer recently.

The Canadian businessman — who took the reins of an embattled Concacaf in 2016 and who is credited for steering the corruption-riddled vessel on a reconstructive journey of transparency and good governance — said among the great opportunities emerging from the new format platform is the increase in World Cup allotment.

"We've made it clear with 2026 we have an opportunity to have eight teams in the World Cup — obviously three that are hosting, three direct spots, and two that will go to intercontinental play-offs. For me, it is important that we get eight as this is an opportunity for Central America and the Caribbean to lift their game in terms of that dream.

"I think it's an opportunity for a lot of debutantes to come to the 2026 World Cup, teams that have been really improving and knocking on the door here lately. Obviously you've got your traditional powerhouses in the Caribbean like your lovely country Jamaica and also Central America that will be obviously favourites, but there are a lot of countries that I think have improved tremendously over the last few years like Curacao, Dominican Republic, to name just a few, who have a real opportunity to shoot for those five spots," Montagliani reasoned.

The FIFA vice-president and recognised gladiator for Concacaf football at the game's highest chamber, Montagliani underlines that the opportunities which are opening up for developing nations are not handouts, but a performance-based incentivised system.

"Absolutely performance is key, opportunity is key, but performance is key to take advantage of that opportunity. I think our member associations realise that also and there is no more hiding it. When you're out of a lot of games you can talk and strut around, but now you got to perform on the pitch.

"I also give kudos to my presidents of my member associations — you know the small ones and the medium ones specifically — because they have really embraced this opportunity.

"Years back everything was so regional, now the relevancy is on the international scale — whether it be through the Gold Cup, through the Nations Leagues, or through World Cup Qualifying. They [member associations] have really embraced that, and they know that football is a global game and they are a significant piece of that and that is what is important to them — to compete for the relevancy of their nation," he asserted.

Meanwhile, Montagliani says it's "very humbling to have the support of my member associations" as he was recently returned to the presidency unopposed for a second full mandate.

He said the unity among members cultivated over the period of his watch is perhaps the most rewarding element to a re-imagined confederation.

"I think what I am most proud of is the unity of our organisation… the unity is amazing of all 41 nations and also the humanity of it, and if you come to our events you actually feel it.

"For me that is a thing that I am most proud of, the authenticity that Concacaf shows in our relationships and how we deal with each other and how we deal with others," he said.

Montagliani added that focusing on the human and football development, plus the fiscal side of the overall agenda, provide peace of mind and a light heart.

"I mean, obviously, we have this thing where we have really put football first — it's obviously in everything we do. Also, our revenues have increased, as you saw with our budget. When I walked in we were pretty much were bankrupt and now we have a 800-million-dollar budget [US dollars] over the next cycle.

"To me those are accomplishments but at the end of the day, football is about people, and that to me is one of the things that I'm most proud about — the fantastic people that we have in Concacaaf and the fantastic team we build, not just at the staff level but within the MAs as well," he ended.

Sean Williams

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