A malignant tale


IF you wanted a picture which told you a malignant story, there it was. Looking over the shoulder of a triumphant Sepp Blatter, just re-elected, Heaven help us, as President of FIFA, was the ravished, basilisk face of his ineffable predecessor, Joao Havelange. The ex-President's face betrayed not the ghost of an emotion, least of all any sign of joy. It might have been carved out of Mount Rushmore, were it not for the fact that those vast stone busts probably show more emotion.

139 votes to 56 was the overwhelming advantage on the ballot against an adversary, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, whose one real advantage was that he isn't Sepp Blatter. Doubtless Hayatou is a decent honest man, but to put up a candidate from sub-Saharan Africa was probably dicing with death. Countries such as Cameroon and Nigeria, as we have seen all too recently, are perpetually riven with conflict and the pervading smell of corruption at organisational level. It has been pertinently asked why UEFA were incapable of putting up, with all their power and money, a credible candidate. As it was, figures as magnetic as Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini, for their own good or bad reasons, not to mention Pele, threw in their lot behind Blatter. Though there were plenty who didn't.

George Will, for example, who has been presiding over the continuing investigation into the horribly suspect FIFA finances. Blatter initially tried to stop the Scot from speaking to the Congress - not that it did much good when he did - on the grounds that Will wasn't speaking for a national association, but on the last day, Blatter relented.

Given what has already been revealed, not least the existence of a mysterious slush fund, of enormous holes - unconvincingly denied by Blatter - in the FIFA budget, of payments made such as that to the African referee flown over to Zurich in the hope of blackguarding Blatter's African critic and so on ad infinitum, you might have thought that Blatter had no chance of re-election. But this my friends is international sport, which has given us Juan Samaranch of the Olympic Movement, Joao Havelange, 24 years in FIFA office, and now Blatter. The one hope of getting rid of him was for those purported criminal charges under Swiss law be made, and made to stick. But FIFA's limp Executive Committee have withdrawn them!

UEFA's President, Lennart Johansson, defeated by Blatter four years ago in deeply suspicious circumstances, has said optimistically that were Blatter to be re-elected, he might suffer the fate of American President Richard Nixon, who initially weathered the Watergate affair, only to be forced later out of office.

Adam Crozier, chief executive of the Football Association, pitched into Blatter on the final day but of course to no avail. He foresaw huge financial trouble ahead and queried Blatter's bland figures. And as brave Michael Zen Ruffinen, the FIFA Secretary who dared to blow the whistle on Blatter and now loses his job, observed, "The presentations do not correspond to reality." The F.A., having ratted on Johansson in favour of Blatter in 98, when that Southampton coroner was F.A. Chairman and England wanted the 2006 World Cup,wanted Blatter out. Let us see what they will do now. "Let's work together and forget what happened in the last month," pleaded Blatter. How?


The Roy Keane affair ended in confusion and bitterness. In Seoul colleagues of the Press assured us that Keane had apologised, only for his teammates to turn him down. In fact Keane appeared on Irish television reportedly to apologise, then didn't. Meanwhile, the big veteran striker Niall Quinn had turned right round and spoken for Keane's return. In vain. The authority of manager Mick McCarthy was gravely weakened.


Does history repeat itself? When the Senegalese midfielder, master of dead ball crosses, Khalilou Fadiga, was accused by Korean investigating police of being potentially guilty of stealing a gold necklace, English minds went back to Bobby Moore. I was on the plane from Quito which touched down in Bogota, when Bobby was arrested accused of stealing a bracelet from the local Hotel Tequemdama. There were anxious days before he was released from house arrest and allowed to play - superbly - in the 1970 Mexican World Cup. He was certainly framed, a Colombian habit, but there were unproved whispers that he was protecting a younger England player. I doubt it.


Bravo Senegal springing the first great African surprise since Cameroon beat the holders Argentina at San Siro in 1990! Who else could be man of the match but Lens' Diouf El Hadji, so often left quite alone upfront but with his close control and deadly pace, the embarrassing master of a Frank Lebouef who should surely have been discarded by the French long since. Would Zinedine Zidane have made the difference? Who knows? But Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira were strangely uninfluential.