Take me to your leader

Published : Jan 10, 2015 00:00 IST

There are no leaders in world football today is the assertion of Brian Glanville.

Take me to your leader. But who in international football would that be? At a time when all too many presumed potential leaders, however clever with their football boots in their active playing days, turn out to have now the equivalent of feet of clay.

Such alas as Franz Beckenbauer, such an iconic figure in German soccer, both as player and international team manager. Now accused of being bought by both the Russians and the Qataris over voting for the 2018 and the 2022 World Cups. Charges of supposed multi-million pound payments about which he has still to utter a defence.

Then there is Michel Platini, himself a superb footballer, master of the scoring free kick, he too a World Cup star, a winner with France of the European championship, yet such a disastrous leader of the European body, UEFA. Having made a plethora of mistakes, he has surely made the greatest of all not only by supporting, as Beckenbauer has clearly done (though not from an official position), the absurd Qatari bid for the World Cup, but by backing the ludicrous idea of staging it the European winter, to the chaotic detriment of the clubs whose interests he is supposed to represent.

Meanwhile, the deplorable Sepp Blatter, having made a ludicrous attempt to defend the Qatari bid, accusing its opponents of racism, seems set to obtain yet a fifth term as President of FIFA. Though even that pales by comparison with the putrefied reign of his predecessor, Joao Havelange, who was in office from 1974 to 1998. At long last to be disgraced in 2014 together with the then head of the Brazilian World Cup organising body, Ricardo Teixeira, his former son-in-law. The man whom he raised from near bankruptcy and owner of nothing but a failing farm to riches, through television contracts.

Teixeira, in power, had a record as long as your arm, devastatingly revealed in David Yallop’s investigative book, How They Sold the Game. In which we read chapter and verse of his bullying dictatorship as President of the Brazilian Football Federation, with malfeasance going back as far as the 1990s. A supreme escapologist, he and the Brazilian World Cup winning team flew home from the USA with the 1994 World Cup and literally tonnes of booty, allegedly including hard drugs. Teixeira screamed and shouted his defiance when attempts were made to hold back the suspect baggage. Attempts were also made to bring him to court, but he was able to postpone them endlessly, with collusion in high places.

Only when last year he and Havelange were found guilty of implementing an illegal deal with the by then defunct ISL company, over World Cup broadcasting rights, were they forced out of office. Havelange, merely as Honorary FIFA President, by then well into his 90s and luxuriating in the money he had made as FIFA President and Teixeira, outrageously put in charge of the World Cup programme, forced to exile himself to Miami. But how could he have been put in charge in the first place?

Belatedly, and who knows how significantly, another hat has been thrown into the ring as the FIFA Presidential election approaches. That of one Harold Mayne-Nicholls, formerly the President of the Chilean Football Federation and ex-Chairman of the FIFA committee set up to assess the rival bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He visited all 11 bidders and has now declared that so far as the 2018 competition was concerned, the English bid was by far the best. Meagre consolation alas for the ludicrous fact that it mustered only a couple of votes, one of them being England’s own. “England were on top,” he now says. “They had the best concept, the best infrastructure, and the people were very much involved.

“How could England have got only two votes? It was a big surprise. I was there and I saw the faces of Prince William and Beckham and they were shocked. It’s like when you are a First Division team and you play a Third Division team and you lose by five goals.”

Mayne-Nicholls also damned the ludicrous Qatar bid, saying Qatar was too hot and too small, raising serious logistical problems. On a day when four matches were to be played, 1,60,000 fans would have to be moved across the city, with its population of almost 8,00,000. A failure in the transport system could mean “a real possibility that lots of people cannot get to the games.”

Travelling around Europe, Mayne-Nicholls, has been eliciting support for a bid to gain the FIFA Presidency, though he himself has been investigated by FIFA over a possible breach of its ethics (whatever they may be). He has connections with a sports academy in Qatar which he insists were above suspicion and that he himself would have paid “all flight costs and expenses.”

Is there, meanwhile, a glimmer of light, a real prospect that the FIFA Augean Stables can at long last be cleaned? Remembering that Havelange was able so easily and so long to remain in power, enabled to do so by the shocking passivity of the members of FIFA at large. But now it is reported that the Swiss authorities are contemplating, however belatedly, a new law making corruption in international sports bodies, wherever they took place, a criminal offence. Sepp Blatter, meanwhile, has said that what he calls the worst crisis in FIFA’s history “has stopped,” given that he is implementing the belated publication of the American lawyer Michael Garcia’s pounds 6-million, 430-page dossier of his investigation into voting corruption.

But so what? We already know that Garcia, as Mayne-Nicholls says, had limited access indeed to the people most deeply involved. Above all to Mohamed Bin Hammam, who is known to have travelled the world spending millions on buying Qatar votes, blithely declared by the Qatar bidders as having no official connection with them. He could not be compelled to testify at Garcia’s futile and irrelevant inquiry, which absurdly exonerated both Qatar and the Russians. Who came up with a fatuous excuse, evoking the old schoolboy defence that “the dog ate my homework,” that the computers they had borrowed, which contained a host of vital e-mails, had alas been destroyed when returned to their actual owners!

Meanwhile, England were rapped on the knuckles for their dealings with that arch-scoundrel, the now discredited and banned Jack Warner of Trinidad. Justly enough, but Garcia’s meaningless investigation strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel.

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