Wednesday, January 28, 2009

England Already Set to Lose 2018 World Cup Battle

Brian Barwick

Can England avoid another humiliation to follow the train wreck of their losing campaign for the 2006 World Cup and stage the tournament in 2018? The short answer is no. The longer answer posits that we may pull it off for 2022, but only if we make the right deals now. More on that in the conclusion. One thing is for sure, no matter who wins, it will have nothing whatsoever to do with who has the best fan support, the best stadiums or the finest facilities. All that matters is football politics and who can offer the best rewards to to the 24 man FIFA executive membership and get 13 votes.

2006 was a disaster. From the get-go, at the very first meeting, the EUFA President, Lennart Johansson, insisted England had already dealt away its chance, by swapping votes with Germany, allowing it to host Euro '96 at the expense of letting Germany stage the 2006 World Cup. The England contingent denied any such deal, which led to a very belligerent, very public row. Subsequently. England, having questioned Johansson's authority in a very public manner, were eliminated in the second round of votes. Next time, the consensus was within the England contingent, Europe will be with us. This is quite clearly delusional thinking. No one likes England, not just its neighbours in the United Kingdom, but pretty much the whole planet. The English wear lead boots when it comes to negotiations and, additionally, the worldwide success of their television rights deals has made them the object of a deep-seated ambivalence. Admiration is a close cousin to jealousy.

Well, the power of wishful positive thinking sometimes skirts the line of myopic hubris. There will be at least four European bids to consider at the next FIFA World Cup meetings. Both England and Russia will make strong independent bids. Additionally, Spain will team up with Portugal to make a powerful joint bid for the Iberian peninsula; while Holland, together with Belgium, will lobby for the Lowlands. England, Russia, Belgium and Spain all have FIFA executive members. FIFA, unlike EUFA and the IOC,. has no rules forbidding members from voting for themselves. This will only leave four extra votes to spare and England, having already placed itself in an adverserial position last time, can't really count on any help whatsoever from any country. As for the rest of the world, with the South American continent abstaining, there are already proposals entered by Qatar, Japan and Indonesia, while other entries are still expected from Canada, Mexico, China and the United States before the February deadline.

Thanks to Vladimir Putin's persuasive manner and suave sense of charm, Russia have become the favourites to stage the tournament. Everyone is still amazed that Putin and his army of American-style ex-athletes and spin-doctors managed to steer the 2014 Winter Olympics away from heavily favoured Salzburg. One might think that Russia's use of its huge natural gas resources as a blackmail tool would hinder rather than spoil its chances to receive votes from the ECC nations, but the opposite seems to hold true. Spain and Portugal, both of whom have hosted tournaments recently, are unlikely to win, but will certainly receive all three South American votes and be able to instigate something advantageous farther on.

The real problem with England's lobby concerns those who are charged to make it. As in all things British, pedigree always supersedes competence. The Chairman of the Football League, Lord MaWhinney, was, unfortunately, born without any vestige of personality beyond the ability to grunt, nod and count the number of heads populating stadiums. Unfortunately, although Sir David Richards, Chairman of the Premier League is popular throughout the footballing world and very much admired for his ability to cut fantastic television broadcasting deals despite a wobbly worldwide economy, he is persona non grata with the F.A.s bigwigs. Led by its Chief Executive, the bombastic Brian Barwick, and his stuttering, sycophantic Socialist sidekick, the Chairman, Lord Triesman, the English Football Association stumbles from failure to failure. Even the most generous pundit would agree that these two have made a repeated series of cock-ups concerning the England national team and Wembley Stadium. It took two resounding errors in the hiring of Sven Goren Eriksson and then his second assistant, Steve McLaren, not to mention the pathetic imbroglio involving the on/off hiring of the brilliant ex-World Cup winning coach, Felipe Scolari, in between, for them to embarrass the nation before the world.

The Russian/American model of using a mixture of athletes, former athletes, financial experts and scores of savvy P.R. people is what England needs. Barwick and Triesman should step aside and let the professionals take over. A brilliant meritocratic cabal of proven business people like Sir David Richards, Sir Richard Branson, David Whelan, David Dein, Peter Kenyon and Phil Gartside should take charge. Cosmopolitan professionals and ex-pros, especially those who can speak a smattering of another language or show off English ethnic diversity like Gary Lineker, Glen Hoddle, Mark Hateley, Chris Waddle, David Beckham, John Barnes, Paul Ince and Rio Ferdinand. This group would not only be a little more diverse than those involved now, but would also have a fair bit more sophistication, sass and pizazz than the usual suspects, verbally and emotionally inhibited Old Schoolers like Bobby Charlton, Bobby Robson, Bryan Robson, and the two mumblers, Alan Shearer and Trevor Brooking. Utilizing the likes of Rio and Becks is probably slightly risky if they don't learn their lines, so to speak, but both are youthful and charismatic and present something completely completely different to a world that often shudders at the discourse of old traditionalist hacks like Barwick, Charlton and Brooking.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought you said this was football. Grumble . . .