The Night of Long Knives

SOME FIFA employees must feel they are at the court of the Emperor Caligula as one after another is summarily sacked. Notably Keith Cooper, the able British Director of Communications, seven years in office, multi lingual, who suddenly found himself called in, not by Sepp Blatter, re-elected as FIFA's President despite the many charges levelled against him, but one of his minions. Blatter had neither the humanity nor the decency to face Cooper himself, nor was any explanation given. Cooper remarked with some bitterness that under FIFA regulations, none was necessary. Some regulations, which not only allow a President to behave in this wantonly autocratic way, but enable him to hide behind a veil of silence.

The logical explanation is that Blatter, who couldn't wait to sack the chief whistle blower, Secretary Michel Zen Ruffinen, once he was re-elected, is pursuing the policy of he who is not with me is against me. Cooper, to put it bluntly, had sat carefully on the fence, neither speaking out against Blatter nor for him which, it seems, was not enough for the re-elected President.

Hard to resist the conclusions that the whole structure is rotten right through which is hardly Blatter's fault, even if he has so plainly exploited the fact. In how many other major organisations can the main man simply sack a subordinate with no given reason, without any kind of consultation with an executive or fellow directors? And after the defenestration of Cooper, six other employees apparently bit the dust. Talk about the Night of the Long Knives.

But, as we know, the major failing of FIFA is the ludicrous situation that every member, every national association, whether it be Brazil or Bermuda, has a single vote, an absolute recipe for bribery and corruption, albeit masquerading as subsidy. FIFA have recently issued a large coloured booklet detailing where the money has gone in their superfluous and iniquitous Goal programme, where small countries of no footballing import but for their single vote, receive sums of money which may be small when seen by the major players but are vast for them.

Can anything be done? There did, till right after the Presidential election, seem a prospect of Blatter facing criminal charges in a Swiss court almost as soon as he was reconfirmed, the craven Executive Committee of FIFA withdrew all charges. Shamelessly, since there had been absolutely no time at all to estbalish that they had no basis. Hope now lies in the fact that the Swiss authorities themselves have decided to proceed with their investigation.

It's been suggested that the European body, UEFA, should pull out of future World Cups, thus knocking the bottom out of FIFA but that is surely predicated on the assumption that UEFA would act as a single, anti-Blatter body. How could they, when the pass has been sold by Germany and France? Even Franz Beckenbauer came out in support of Blatter and the German Deutsche Fussball Bund is said to have received a hefty guarantee of financial help for their staging of the 2006 World Cup.

UEFA themselves must be blamed for failing, with all their huge financial resources and potential clout, to put up a Presidential candidate of their own.

Instead, they lined up behind the hapless Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, no doubt a decent honest man, even if he does represent a country which is perpetually in turmoil at international level, with players - as at the recent World Cup - protesting at their treatment by officials. But in terms of international soccer, Hayatou was a nonentity, whose electoral campaign made scarcely any impact even in his own Africa. Indeed, it was roundly criticised even by the former Cameroon goalkeeper, Joseph Antoine Bell.

The English F.A., under its chief executive Adam Crozier, a violent critic of Blatter at the electoral congress, keeps firing away, while David Will, the Scottish chairman of the FIFA financial investigating committee, is determined to soldier on, but as things stand, Blatter seems to have free rein in doing just whatever he likes, sacking and appointing whomever he pleases.

Meanwhile, in England, there is chaos and contumely in the so called Nationwide Football League, locked in battle with the major television commercial companies, Granada and Carlton. Their subsidiary, known as ITV Digital, made a ridiculous contract with Nationwide - whose three divisions come below the Premiership League - to pay over �350 million to transmit what can only be called second class football. Audiences were predictably abysmal, sometimes as few as 1,000. So ITV Digital collapsed, still owing the Nationwide �178 million which it refused to pay. Nationwide demanded the money plus the bagatelle of �500 million damages from the parent companies, Granada and Carlton, who replied that they were not legally liable. Hence the ensuing battle in the High Court.

It's always a bad sign when in a legal battle, one side - in this case the Football League - talks about moral commitment. The League also adduce evidence that Digital's main negotiator promised them that Carlton and Granada would stand guarantee. But as the celebrated movie mogul, Sam Goldwyn senior is supposed to have said, "a verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."

In the interim, the League, through its chief executive David Burns, negotiated a four-year �95 million contract with B Sky B satellite television. This, to the utter fury of most of its clubs who claimed they'd never been consulted and that Burns should have waited, since, in two years, Sky's contract with the Premiership runs out, and there could thus be room for better terms. (Or not, as the case might be).

A somewhat pathetic parade of League club chairmen, protesting outside the offices in London of Carlton and Granada, seemed a sign of weakness rather than strength. Burns explained that Sky had effectively put a gun at his head, demanding an answer in a matter of days. Personally, I can see his point; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and the dissident clubs should have realised that the initial ITV Digital contract was fatuously generous. Too many of them, alas have in the words of the Porter in Macbeth, "hanged themselves on the expectation of plenty." Poured out money in transfer fees and salaries which they'll now no longer be able to cover.

All this, and the news that even Premiership clubs are virtually mortgaging star players to the banks, so they can afford the transfer fees. Why, even Italy's stars, such as Recoba and Vieri and Ronaldo, are voluntarily accepting salary cuts!