Big men, big misdeeds

Former FIFA president Joao Havelange resigned from his post in the IOC.-AP

Recently FIFA President Sepp Blatter engaged in another of his petulant rants against the Football Association for daring to criticise the way it was cheated out of its perfectly valid bid for the 2018 World Cup. Bad losers, Blatter alleged, when he might well do better to talk about very bad winners. Over to Brian Glanville.

Major football, you might say, is in an increasing state of turmoil. Why even the ineffable, previously untouchable, Joao Havelange has so to speak been obliged to quite two steps off the posse.

Forced that is to say to tender his resignation not to his honorary well padded ex Presidential role with FIFA, but from his position on the International Olympic Committee. Not that this is likely to worry him too much in his advanced dotage. The supposed humiliation will make no impact on the vast sums of money he acquired in his abysmal 24-year period as President of FIFA. His resignation has been prompted by the revelation that he pocketed millions of illicit dollars in the form of pay offs by the doomed ISA sports conglomerate, which in due course overreached itself and went bust.

It appears that the whistle was blown, the revelations made, about his and others' malfeasance by none other then his protégé, Sepp Blatter, unopposed President of FIFA. And recently engaged in another of his petulant rants against the Football Association for daring to criticise the way it was cheated out of its perfectly valid bid for the 2018 World Cup. Bad losers, Blatter alleged, when he might well do better to talk about very bad winners.

But now the net, operated by no less a body than the FBI, encouraged and informed by that notable investigator my friend Andrew Jennings, is closing in on Chuck Blazer, the chief executive of FIFA and bosom buddy of the now disgraced and marginalised Jack Warner of Trinidad, until he ousted Warner for his blatant attempts to buy FIFA Presidential votes for the disgraced Mohammed Bin Hammam.

At first it was assumed that Blazer in impugning Warner was trying to cover his own tracks by if this were the case he has hardly succeeded. The FBI are now looking into massive payments made to the corpulent Blazer reportedly he couldn't even squeeze into an official car — totalling some USD500,000. Blazer not surprisingly insists that he is as pure as the driven snow, but it seems somewhat significant that payments were made into his accounts in the notorious Cayman Islands and Barbados. We shall no doubt see.

And then there is the depressing case of Michel Platini, once such a splendidly elegant attacker for France and Juventus, today the increasingly controversial President of UEFA; and, Heaven help us, the likely successor to Blatter as President of FIFA. Why does he accept Lyon's suspicious 7-1 win at Zagreb?

No one doubts Platinl's total integrity of course but how to explain his absurd support of tiny over heated water, football nonentities, in its dubiously successful bid for the 2022 World Cup? Now he ludicrously and irresponsibly suggests that… to cater for Qatar, that World Cup should be played in the winter thereby avoiding the most intense of the oppressive heat but totally disrupting the programmes of the European clubs, a prospect he airily dismisses.

You can give him good marks for his attempt to suppress the colossal expenditure of such clubs as Manchester City, some GBP190 million in the red, and Chelsea. As against that, he has initiated the grisly Europa tournament with access to remotely situated minnows and a seemingly endless course, beginning in July. The manager of Birmingham City Chris Hughton has complained of the physical strain of playing these ties on a Thursday with the inevitable corollary of weary limbs and disappointing results. One of his players has said that it isn't the matches themselves which are tiring, rather than the formidable travelling.

As for the so called European Champions League which of course is nothing of the sort with some countries entitled to enter no fewer than four teams, we have just been reminded of what a fiasco it has become. No fewer than three clubs, in the last of the recent group matches, put severely under strength teams. In the case of Barcelona it didn't really matter since their excellent youngsters were easily capable of dismissing feeble opposition at Nou Camp. But it was a very different and worrying story in two other groups, where Arsenal and Bayern Munich had already qualified.

Each club, Arsenal away to Olympiakos in Greece and Bayern Munich away to Manchester City decided to put out what you might call skeleton sides and almost inevitably both of them lost. The Gunners, thanks not least to inept goalkeeping went down 3-1 to Olympiakos, who had real hopes of qualification should they win at the expense of Marseille who had a far from easy away fixture at Borussia Dortmund. They seemed doomed to go out at 2011 till a superb late rally brought them two goals, a 3-2 win and qualification.

Manchester City duly accounted 2-0 for a secondary Bayern Munich team which grossly unfairly could have seen them sneak through at the expense of a surely superior Napoli side. But Napoli won 2-0 at Villareal, and therefore deservedly went into the next phase.

What can be done about this potential, monumental, unfairness? What, alas, certainly won't be done, which would be the cutting out of these qualifying groups and reverting to the old traditional scheme of clubs playing two legged home and away ties, the qualification to be decided on goal difference.

Not so long ago there were two such phases but at last that proved too top heavy and prone to fraud, and one was abolished. One remains.