THE BLOG
23/12/2013 08:19 GMT | Updated 19/02/2014 05:59 GMT

The Greatest World Cup of All Time?

It is already being billed the 'greatest World Cup of all time'.

With next summer's tournament now just a matter of months away, all eyes are on Brazil as they prepare to host the competition for the first time since 1950.

Five time winners of the trophy, and a nation which has consistently represented the very best of football, Brazil is synonymous with creativity, fluidity, and artistry.

So where better to play out the biggest tournament on earth, than in a carnival atmosphere, with sun, sand, sea - and samba?

On paper, it's the perfect combination.

But, amongst fans and figures in the game, there is a general feeling of apathy towards the competition - and a series of issues in the run up to the tournament has cast doubt over the suitability of Brazil as a host nation.

Having worked with football clubs across the globe for over two decades, I have visited Brazil on several occasions - and was planning to make the trip next June, too.

Rewind to this time five years ago, I had already sorted my flights, accommodation and tickets for the tournament in South Africa, and was counting down the days.

But, the truth is, that I am reluctant to commit to this World Cup - and I don't have confidence that the issues being faced will be ironed out in time for kick off.

That seems to be a common feeling amongst both fans and figures right across world football. In fact, many of my contacts who would normally be first on the plane are still in two minds about whether to actually make the trip to Brazil at all.

And that trepidation is easy to understand - particularly for supporters, who face a series of headaches if they follow their country next summer.

Inflated accommodation prices (some of which have been hiked by over 500%), and the huge distances to travel between fixtures, both represent major financial outlay - and a quick glance at Brazil's crime statistics isn't likely to help either.

I visited Sao Paulo just a couple of years ago - and, fantastic city that it is, I was advised to travel with security for much of the time I was there.

Add to that the significant delays around stadium completion, recent public protests against the government, and below-par infrastructure - and the famous Jules Rimet trophy quickly loses much of its sparkle and glamour.

Last week, the Brazilian Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, admitted that none of the stadia still under construction for the tournament will be ready for the December 31st deadline imposed.

In a huge leap of faith from Sepp Blatter and his cronies, FIFA have agreed to extend that date - but, with the venue for the opening game looking unlikely to be finished until mid-April, the tournament is shrouded in uncertainty as we enter 2014.

That is a real shame for the home nation, as their passion for the game really is something to behold.

Having been to many of the venues across the country, including the famous Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which housed 200,000 fans during the 1950 World Cup final, I have seen that passion first hand.

But it is in the city favelas where the true power of the game is most evident.

Those shanty towns, set amongst sprawling cities and overlooked by holy statue 'Christ the Redeemer', are a hotbed for violence and crime - and football offers a crucial escape from that poverty and misery.

It really is more than just a game to many young Brazilians.

The likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho have all risen from the favelas to the fastigium of world football - and for the people of Brazil, the Seleção represents not just a football team, but a national identity.

I've even been at U-17 and U-18 youth level games where attendances have smashed the 50,000 mark.

That passion has never wavered, even during a recent lull which has seen Spain become top dog in the international football scene - and the hosts will fancy their chances on home soil next summer.

Of course, being Spanish myself, my heart tells me that that la Roja are well placed to retain the trophy - in what is likely to be the final World Cup for several of the golden era, including midfield maestros Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

Whilst I have been vocal in my belief that England are falling behind on the pitch, I do think that they could yet have an important role to play off it as the tournament approaches.

Publicly, FIFA have been supportive of Brazil's tournament preparation - putting on a confident and united front.

But Blatter has already admitted that he has no plan B - and is "praying" for a quick resolution.

If significant progress hasn't been made by mid-March, then the World Cup will be thrust into doubt, and FIFA will need to cut their losses - and switch the venue.

With the stadia and infrastructure in place to host the tournament at short notice, England would be the perfect alternative.

Following a series of run-ins in recent years, Blatter has a somewhat fractured relationship with the Three Lions - and back in 2012, he joked that only the "football gods" knew when England would next be awarded a major tournament.

If Brazilian preparations continue at a snail's pace, Blatter may soon be crying out for salvation himself.