Eight years ago, when the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia and Qatar won the right to host the tournament in 2022, it sounded like the death knell for international football. The club game was growing more powerful and more popular every day and now FIFA had outdone themselves in their venality and their greed.
The fear was that, by agreeing to play the tournament in one country traditionally viewed with fear and suspicion by the West and another where if the heat didn't kill you, the restrictions on alcohol would, the sport's governing body was accelerating towards the moment when players and public regarded the World Cup with scorn.
There were times between then and now when it was fashionable to heap disdain on the international game and, by extension, its apogee, the World Cup. In England, that trend was exacerbated by repeated disappointments and particularly the early exits at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. No one likes backing a loser and many England fans planted the flags of their allegiance in the successes of their clubs instead.
The award of World Cup to Russia and Qatar sounded like death knell for international game
Eight years ago, the club game was growing more powerful and more popular every day
But the World Cup can provoke emotions in fans that even the Champions League cannot
The first two weeks of this World Cup have changed all that. They have reminded us that, actually, the World Cup can provoke emotions in football fans that even competitions like the Champions League cannot. It can provide viewing figures that even the Champions League cannot.
It can bring us scenes of joy and happiness that even the Champions League cannot. And it can bring us together in a way that even the Champions League cannot.
If there was a fear that the best players in the world wouldn't show up in Russia, that they would be spent after their exertions in the club game, that fear has been exploded. Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick against Spain, Harry Kane's hat-trick against Panama, Kylian Mbappe's breathtaking performance against Argentina, Lionel Messi's stunning goal against Nigeria, Philippe Coutinho's beautiful pass for Paulinho to score against Serbia and the general majesty of Luka Modric have lit up the tournament already.
Look how much the best players crave glory here. Look how they still regard it as football's biggest stage. Watch Messi when he leapt on Marcos Rojo's back after Rojo scored the late winner against Nigeria. Or watch Ronaldo stroking his imaginary beard after he scored against Spain to indicate that he is the GOAT (greatest of all time), not Messi.
Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick versus Spain was one of the highlights of the group stages
Lionel Messi leapt on Marcos Rojo's back after Rojo scored the late winner against Nigeria
That gesture said that what a player does in the World Cup still confers greatness upon him more than anything else. Everyone knew Mbappe was a star anyway but the way he announced himself on the world stage in Kazan on Saturday will lift his reputation to another level. So don't try to tell me that the greatest players don't care about the World Cup any more.
The World Cup is about more than just what happens on the pitch, too. It is another level. It grips a country more than the partisan adventures of a club side. In England, more people watched England-Panama than watched the Royal wedding. Imagine what the numbers would be like if England got to the quarter-finals. Or beyond.
And then there is being here. There is being in Russia to see this festival. There is being in the St Petersburg Stadium last Tuesday night to witness a brilliant match full of heartbreak and joy but also to marvel at the way that 40,000 or more Argentina fans turned the stadium into a sea of blue and white happiness.
Those scenes are being repeated across the tournament. This World Cup has felt like a celebration of much that is best about the game. Too much in the modern world is the same. Too much is about wanting to be the same. Too much is about loss of identity. This World Cup, like others before it, allows us to celebrate our differences.
The display of France's Kylian Mbappe against Argentina will lift his