Category Archives: World Football

Blatter

Sepp Blatter: Say Hello to My Little Friend

If you’ve seen one gangster movie, you’ve seen them all. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lavish production with big named actors like the Godfather trilogy, a cheesy story about a crack dealer staring Ice T like New Jack City, or even Thelma and Louise. Each and every gangster movie basically ends the same way, in a blaze of glory. And just like every other gangster movie I was kind of hoping that the end of FIFA would be at least a little dramatic. Like maybe Sepp Blatter would hold a press conference at his home, pop out onto a gaudy balcony, yell out “SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!”, and start firing one of those tee-shirt cannons full of euros at all the collected media types.

But real life is boring. Despite being one of the biggest criminal gangs in the world, the fall of FIFA head Sepp Blatter didn’t end in a dramatic shootout. It ended with a resignation. It was the dramatic equivalent of Tony Montana throwing wet ladyfingers at his enemies.

For his next move Blatter will probably abscond to some country with no extradition treaty with the USA, like Russia, and spend the rest of his life in exile — wealthy, wealthy, exile. Вы говорите по-русски, Sepp? Well, you better learn!

FIFA

And now that Sepp has stepped aside everyone in world football is dreaming big about what FIFA might become. Well, you might as well go ahead and stop dreaming now because despite Sepp Blatter stepping down I will bet you dollars to donuts that FIFA doesn’t change much. Because the problem with FIFA isn’t just Sepp Blatter and his criminal gang. The problem with FIFA is the entire structure.

There is a fantastic article on the Washington Post which details both how Sepp Blatter maintained his power and the complex global politics at the heart of FIFA. While everyone knew that FIFA was corrupt, while they had executives arrested, people pleading guilty, admissions of ticket stealing, and while Blatter kept making ridiculous pronouncements about race, gender, and sexuality, Sepp Blatter kept getting re-elected and my friends kept asking how.

The answer is simple, there are 209 nations in FIFA and every one gets just one vote.  So, France has the same voting power as Trinidad and Tobago. That is how Blatter held on to power, by catering to small countries. He almost literally didn’t care what countries like England and the USA had to say about his governance. There were more than enough votes in the small countries, countries which can be controlled easily, for him to maintain power.

FIFA also governs player transfers. By the laws of game players are not actually allowed to say no to international call ups. If a player tried to refuse to play in Qatar or Russia on the moral grounds that they refuse to be party to homophobic, racist, human rights violations, the player can be banned from club play.

FIFA uses its power to compel big name players to play in special, one-off, tournaments. For example, the USA is set to host the 2016 “Centenario” of the Copa America. That’s right, Messi, Neymar, and Alexis Sanchez are going to be playing in a special Copa America in Seattle and other places in the USA, the first Copa America ever held outside of Latin America, on the centenary of the founding of the Copa America. Just one year after their previous Copa America which follows the World Cup. South American players won’t be getting a single moment’s rest for three years straight.

And while the world has been wringing their hands over World Cup bribery and wondering why Qatar gets a world cup when they have no history of soccer, have no soccer infrastructure, and have a history of horrible human rights violations the real corruption has been passing right before our very eyes. It’s all about sponsorship money: $1.6bn in sponsorship money.

The Department of Justice’s case against FIFA turned up $150m in bribes.  And that’s just what they turned up here in North America. The indictment makes it clear, FIFA have operated like a mafia for over 20 years:

The indictment alleges that, between 1991 and the present, the defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted the enterprise by engaging in various criminal activities, including fraud, bribery and money laundering.  Two generations of soccer officials abused their positions of trust for personal gain, frequently through an alliance with unscrupulous sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks.  All told, the soccer officials are charged with conspiring to solicit and receive well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for their official support of the sports marketing executives who agreed to make the unlawful payments.

Maybe it’s just CONCACAF and COMNEBOL where this money laundering, bribery, and fraud has been taking place? I doubt it. There was a revelation today that FIFA paid $5m to the FA of Ireland so that they would drop their lawsuit against France over the infamous Hand of Gaul. And we’ve already heard some rumors about the Qatar World Cup bid being tied to massive commercial giveaways. I suppose we will have to wait to see the results of those investigations.

But in the end, this is an astonishing level of corruption, more than most of us even thought. It is corruption spanning over 20 years, with a price tag of at least $150m, and involving a host of FIFA vice-presidents and multinational sports marketing corporations. It looks like systemic corruption in an organization which only adopted ethics rules in 2004.

So, sure, dream of changing FIFA. Maybe we can all wish that there will be fewer pointless International friendlies? Maybe we can all wish that the new head of FIFA limits the absurd menagerie of pre- and post- World Cup tournaments that players are forced to participate in? But with all the money at stake, with number of international tournaments on the rise, and with the players almost enslaved to FIFA’s governance of player transfers… I wouldn’t bet on it.

Qq

You know it's the first thing you thought!

Bale is a little fish in a big pond: thoughts on the Champions League final

Good morning everyone, quick post today, nothing well written or interesting. So, you know, like the old days.

I’m excited for the Champions League finals for the first time in a while and it’s because of Juventus. For me Juve embodies the perfect combination of attacking and defensive football. They kinda park the bus, but they do it with style.

Someone will read that I just said that Juve park the bus and get all angsty but what I mean is that they are a well organized defensive team. I like that. I think it’s a thing of beauty to watch a well organized defensive team. Not just in the way that they move as a unit but with Juventus there is also a certain attitude which hearkens back to the old days.

I’m not calling Juventus’ defense the C¹ word. They are just a good team who play a well organized brand of defense.

They are also an exciting attacking team and Pogba, Pirlo, and Vidal are three of my favorite midfielders in the world right now. Pirlo plays passes that make me wish I’d started paying football when I was a kid. Pogba is probably the best in the world right now at turning defense into attack. A lot of players get labeled as “the new Patrick Vieira” but he’s the real deal. And Vidal is very similar to Pogba. Those three compliment each other very well.

It’s a misnomer that watching a team like Juventus put on a defense-first performance isn’t fun, exciting, or entertaining. Once you realize what they are doing, the excitement is in every moment of build-up play, every tackle, every block. It’s like NASCAR, the excitement is in the idea that there might be a crash.

And when the defense-first team does break away with the ball, everyone is on their toes. No one breathes for that 30 seconds as the attacking team is suddenly countered.

I should say, it’s exciting for the neutral. For the attacking team’s fans it’s a combination of frustration and heartbreak. For the defensive team’s fans it’s a combination of panic and bliss.

And so, this Champions League final, pitting Italy’s Juventus versus the Spanish Barcelona, with the Spanish side’s star attack of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar, is going to be 90 minutes of fun. That’s what I hope anyway.

In my heart I suspect that Barcelona’s attack is going to be too strong and that Juve won’t have an answer.

I suspect that because let’s face it, Real Madrid probably should have scored at least another goal. But for Bale there went Real.

Bale had 7 chances in that game, more than any other player, and only got one on target — a long range, speculative effort. He also had two “big chances”, shots right in front of goal, which he failed to get on target. And where the Bale of last year finished those chances, the Bale of this year looked a bit like a headless chicken.

I haven’t watched him enough this season but his dip in stats, plus reading the reports and hearing the Real Madrid fans voice their utter disdain for him, makes me wonder if he isn’t quite at the level of a club like Real Madrid. You know, a little fish in a big pond. You put him at a small club like West Brom, West Ham, or Tottenham (all the hams), and he looks remarkably good. You put him next to Ronaldo and Benzema and he looks remarkably ordinary.

My guess is that when he moves back to a smaller club he’ll look like a world beater again.

That’s it for today. Les will have a column out tomorrow and I will make some comments about Walcott/Bale in the comments section at lunch.

See you then.

Qq

¹Catenaccio

Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard is the last of a dying breed

By Tim Todd, Global Arsenal Reporter

“(Mourinho) is the best manager in the world for me. I’d have signed for him if I wasn’t a Liverpool fan, if Liverpool weren’t in my heart. He is the reason why my head was turned on a couple of occasions but he understood why I couldn’t do it and it’s because I love Liverpool.”

Asked if he ever still wondered what might have been, Gerrard added: “I did at the time but I always said to myself, when I sat down with my dad and my brother, that if I win a couple of trophies at Liverpool it will mean an awful lot more to me than if I won 10 at Chelsea or Inter Milan or Real Madrid. It always means more when you win for your people.”

In the build up to the match between Liverpool and Chelsea last weekend, the main story was about how much respect Jose Mourinho had for Steven Gerrard. Mourinho apparently respected Gerrard so much that he tried to take him away from Liverpool on three occasions; for Chelsea, for AC Milan, and for Real Madrid. Each time, Gerrard refused, electing to stay with “his people” in Liverpool.

Gerrard willingly gave up trophies and money to play for Liverpool. In the age of the modern footballer where great clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool are seen as pit stops on the road to Barcelona or Real Madrid, it’s incredible to hear that a player turned down money and trophies and that he did so because he’s a fan of the club and because the club are his people.

What’s rare about Gerrard’s statement is this idea that he is a fan, a true and loyal fan, of the club he plays for. A lot of players say that they are fans of the club, and some of them even dress up in the club’s shirt when they are kids, but when the chips are down and there is a big money offer from a rival club and the manager is dangling a chance to win a trophy? They will leave.

Robin van Persie did that. When he was a boy, he was photographed wearing his Arsenal shirt. Arsenal were his boyhood club. He was supposedly a fan.

But in our modern condition, when things tend to be more superficial, when we can pull on a shirt and assume an identity, grow a silly mustache, wear an ironic tee-shirt, and take on a loyalty, what really ties us to these clubs?

In Gerrard’s case it was friends and family. It was growing up in Liverpool and taking his first training session as a 9 year old at the Liverpool Academy. Those kinds of ties bind, making it impossible for him to simply turn his back and leave.

I was talking to a friend, and Arsenal season ticket holder, in England a few years back. Arsenal were at a low point in the club’s recent history, struggling to finish fourth, and under threat from rivals Tottenham. It was a strained moment between fans and club: ticket prices were (and still are) a huge problem and people were giving up their season tickets. So, I asked him what it would take for him to give up his season ticket. His answer was swift and sure: “if my friends stopped going.” He’d been a fan through the bad seasons, he’d seen much worse than a few years of finishing fourth, and what maintained him through all that was his community.

That’s why Gerrard couldn’t leave Liverpool. It didn’t matter what riches Mourinho offered because Gerrard won the Champions League, in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport, at Liverpool. And he shared that victory with “his people.”

I reckon that after this generation of footballers retire we many never see another Gerrard again — and I don’t mean just in England. The idea that family, friends, and loyalty means more than trophies and money is quickly dying all over the world. Look at Cesc Fabregas. He turned his back on his boyhood club, on friends and family in Catalan, to join Arsenal. After Arsenal turned him into a star he claimed that Arsenal were his new family, Wenger was his father, and he promised Arsenal fans, “If some day I leave Arsenal it will never be to sign for another English team. I’m very sure.” But after a stint back at Barcelona he ran into the open arms of both Arsenal and Barcelona’s arch rival, Jose Mourinho. Imagine if Steven Gerrard left Liverpool to play for Sir Alex Ferguson and Man U. That’s what Fabregas did.

To keep players of Gerrard’s ability at your club, you now need to pay them huge salaries, build the team around them, and promise them trophies. We may never see another player of Gerrard’s ability elect to stay with his boyhood club if it so much as drops out of the Champions League places or fails to meet his expectations.

It’s not just the players. The fans aren’t loyal to the players either. And neither are the clubs loyal to the fans or the players in some cases. It’s part of the globalization of the game. The world is more interconnected than ever before. People are able to move more freely. Money and ideas flow across borders faster than ever before. People are less interested in authenticity and more interested in style. The game is less and less about a group of friends from North London who have attended every home game since 1995 and more about the millions of voices across the world who watch the games in pubs or on their couches with their family.

I don’t know if it’s better or worse this way. I see many sides to that argument and all make valid points. But we all know that the game is no longer the same and guys like Gerrard, they are a dying breed.

Qq