Back on June 1 in Zurich UEFA president Michel Platini summoned an early-morning meeting of national association leaders with David Bernstein. The new chairman of the Football Association, was asked NOT to press ahead with an obviously-doomed bid to seek a postponement of the presidential election later that day.
Bernstein, a ‘new boy’ in the FIFA Congress arena, ignored that request. Consequently he took the floor, made his speech . . . and was ‘rewarded’ with not only an overwhelming defeat but a string of public admonitions.
Not for the first time, English football had gone out on an arrogant, ill-advised limb which could be shown up, in the next two years, as having been politically suicidal.
At the time Bernstein’s intervention drew questioning attention to the historical oddity represented by the independence of the British four home nations; it also revived the cloud of British contention surrounding the unified team competing at London 2012.
Ever since their reintegration into FIFA in 1947 the independence of the British Four – with their joint vice-presidency – has been enshrined in FIFA statutes.
Britain also holds one other significant place in the corridors of power. This concerns membership of the law-making International Football Association Board: the British four plus four from FIFA. Any decision demands a two-thirds majority. Hence the British four possess a veto over any proposed law change.
Now, thanks partly to England’s ill-timed and ill-advised sabre-rattling in Congress, both the independence of the Four and their status through the International Board is in danger.
When FIFA president Sepp Blatter realised survival depended on change, he was never, ever, going to grant the told-you-so satisfaction of a key reforming role to the British in general or to the English in particular.
His proposals for change will be led by four new committees, one of which will overhaul FIFA’s statutes.
Chosen to lead that particular task force is Theo Zwanziger, president of the German federation and Franz Beckenbauer’s successor as one of UEFA’s representatives now on the FIFA executive committee.
Beckenbauer, let it be noted, has been confirmed as chairman of the football 2014 task force, charged with suggesting ideas to increase the attraction of the game in general and the World Cup in particular.
Thus, when it comes to significant commanding roles in the evolution of association football, it’s Germany 2 England 0.
More, Zwanziger is a publicly-declared critic of the international board. He is on record as wanting its abolition. With its British bias it represents, he believes, an anomaly.
Logically, though he has not pronounced on the issue, he would also consider FIFA’s British vice-presidency as another anomaly.
And, as noted, Zwanziger is heading up the statutes review which has the power to change all that.
No wonder that one whisper in Zurich last week pondered whether the most likely European successor to Sepp Blatter in 2015 may not now be Michel Platini but Theo Zwanziger.
By Keir Radnedge