Thursday, June 02, 2011

England and Scotland fail to splatter Blatter

Like EastEnders or Coronation Street going on a summer break to Spain, Blackpool or Ireland, the footballing soap opera has upped sticks for the summer.

A cast of thousands, a few suitably over the top villians, a couple of unlikely characters attempting to play the hero and subplots aplenty.

It's been fun and games at Fifa's navel gazing jamboree in Zurich this week. Sepp Blatter, revelling in winning an election against no other candidates, even went out of his way to show Tom Lehrer had greatly exaggerated the death of satire.

It hadn't died when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize after all. To prove it here was Blatter anointing Kissinger as the leading player in the committee charged with ridding Fifa of the stench of corruption that has smothered its reputation of late.

Who among us did not guess that this unwieldy organisation was corrupt, corrupt to the tips of its toes? And who didn't expect that Blatter, the man who has made the governing body rich, would get the support of world football's gravy train blazerati?

As chance would have it I was flicking through a a 1958 copy of Billy Wright's World of Soccer recently.

Billy, or his uncredited ghost writer, muses quite frequently on the international game:

"Football is now the 'World Game.' After playing soccer, too, in forty countries, I also realise that it has become an international language; a language of friendship and goodwill.

"I've be lucky in going on tour with England to so many places - especially to South America... - but above all else I'm proud to have so often been a member of the Football Association Party. The FA, you see, stands for all that is good in world sport. It has set a standard which others have in every way been proud to follow..."

What would he make of the 'world game' today? Reviled, discredited and run by a collection of thieves and bandits.

No doubt the English FA are this week proud that they are upholding the tradition Billy was so keen to celebrate.

Would we have heard a whimper from them if England had actually won the right to host the 2018 World Cup?

Seems to me the FA weren't so keen to blow the lid off Fifa's rotten core when the riches of the tournament were on offer. Not only were they prepared to dance with the devil, they were naive enough to think that waltzing with David Beckham, a Prime Minister and a future king would be enough to seal the deal.

That and the promise of the odd friendly, the sprinkling of riches brought by association with England's multi-millionaires being in its own way 30 pieces of silver in return for support.

Our very own SFA have been among the few nations prepared to back England's Axis of Virtue.

Little wonder they feel the right to preach the gospel of truth, fair play and transparency in this season of delight for Scottish football.

There is, of course, a different level to the corruption allegations currently being hurled at football's top table.

But a look at our own associations - the championing of an amateur management culture in a highly professional sport, the apparently effortless move through the ranks of people unsuited to the job - suggests that this level of incompetence writ large on a world stage was always likely to end up with the sorry mess that has unfolded recently.

It seems typical, in fact, that the SFA's principled stand has been pretty much ignored by what might laughably be called Fifa's leading lights who have chosen instead to concentrate their attacks on the English FA. We're now so marginalised that our dissent need not even be tackled.

There might still be time for reprisals though.

The most likely consequence, unless - and we shouldn't discount this possibility - bridges are cravenly built on both sides, is the loss of the Home Nations' key privileges.

England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have enjoyed their own Fifa vice-president and powerful voices on the international FA board for over sixty years. That could soon come under threat.

That exalted position is often seen as a nod to our historical role in developing the game and exporting it to the world. In fact we were awarded special status to get us on board with the international game after World War Two. There's a history of Fifa giving and accepting "favours" that we've not always been afraid to use to our advantage.

There seems less risk to the independent footballing status of the four home nations. These recent controversies will now get wrapped up with the apparently never ending discussion of a joint British Olympic team.

But it seems to me that to act against the four countries would open up another deal of trouble for Blatter. It would undoubtedly drag Fifa into some sort of confrontation with Uefa and European football's top man, Michel Platini.

Platini has been name checked as the white knight to sort out this unholy football shambles. But he's left his steed in the stable.

Perhaps because he's playing a long game. A four year game that will end in the Fifa presidency in 2015. We'll see. Purer he might be but Platini, despite his protestations, is now a politician to his soul, every inch the strategist and courter of alliances that Blatter has been.

Certainly we have to conclude that neither Platini nor Blatter want to be trapped in a controversy over the fate of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish right now.

And there is another compelling reason for them to avoid that.

The same reason that the FA will stay exactly where they are, anguished, humiliated and beaten. But still part of Blatter's "football family."

Expulsions or breakaways would destabilise world football. That would create a power vacuum.

It's likely that certain club sides would move quickly to fill that vacuum, grab it eagerly while Platini, author of financial fair play regulations, and Blatter, holder of the key to global riches, are distracted. Whatever else Blatter might be, we have to surmise that he did not haul himself from PR supremo of a minor Swiss tourist resort to the dictator of world football by being a complete fool.

In his last stretch as president, in his mid seventies, his thoughts must surely turn to salvaging a legacy. The idea of being the man who killed international football will not appeal.

Will anything change in the next four years? Probably very little.

But this current crisis has been years, decades, in the making. The recent outrage, the scrabbling to screech from the moral highground, has been badly timed, ill prepared and poorly executed.

However honourable the intention it seems to have only entrenched the current regime and will now almost certainly lead to Fifa's own investigation being an act of Blatter-ist cosmetics.

Cackhanded and ineffectual. It wouldn't require much of a TV scriptwriter to work out exactly this story arc the moment the English and Scottish assocations got together as an inglorious crime fighting duo.