Don’t say filth; say FIFA might be an appropriate slogan.
Though at least Infanino’s new regime has had the initiative and good sense to release sensational documents which tell us – hardly perhaps a surprise – that the appalling Sepp Blatter and a couple of cronies had been creaming vast amounts out of Fifa’s funds. Both the diligent Americans and the Swiss authorities, who have taken a long time to react to the scandal, are now pressing towards prosecution.
Meanwhile the ultimate villain of the peace Joao Havelange, now aged 100, relaxes with his vast ill-acquired wealth in his native Brazil. FIFA, as we know, stripped him of his role as honorary president when some of his gross speculations came to light, but that will hardly have bothered him. Unlike Blatter, Havelange for so many years respected the so-called 11th commandment; thou shalt not be found out.
Yet who, in all too recent football history, can escape blame? We now know that the Germans bought the World Cup finals 2006, the South Africans bought them four years later. In a pathetic attempt to elude blame, the chief negotiator defends the £10 million payment made to that rancid middleman Jack Warner of Trinidad, insisting that it was meant to help the promotion of football in those islands. The Russians have got away with buying the ensuing World Cup tournament as have the ludicrously unsuitable Qatar.
Even to the extent of those finals being switched, with the concurrence of the now suspended Michel Platini, to the European winter with all the chaos that will entail. Gianni Infantino has declared that there isn’t enough evidence to take the World Cup away from either Russia or Qatar.
Infantino, meanwhile, has been busy bolstering his own power at the expense of the various committees which will now come under his aegis. So much for democracy. In his electoral pitch he promised huge sums of money to the various FIFA countries, hastily withdrew but now seems to be contemplating such a bizarre move again. Just at the time when the latest FIFA accounts show that revenue has slipped £400 million below expectations.
“The general uncertainty is affecting the morale of the FIFA team,” complained Marcus Kattner, then the acting Secretary General. Now, another of the three officials accused of stealing money.
With Wales crashing 3-0 in Sweden on the verge of the European Championship finals, it seems less and less likely that England will fail to emerge intact from their qualifying group.
This is not to say, as I write, that there are any great grounds for optimism. Roy Hodgson, at the press conference which followed the insipid England display against a ten man Portugal at Wembley, seemed cheerfully optimistic but it was hard to imagine why. Yes in the three friendlies England have played in short order before the tournament they had won all three, but each time by the narrowest of margins.
His selection in the third and last game at Wembley made little sense. After the game I asked him about the exclusion from the 23 man group of Andros Townsend, to which he simply replied that he could take only 23 players to France.
Yet the exclusion of Townsend seemed to fly in the face of logic, not least when it is remembered that was Hodgson who had always encouraged him at international level. Since Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino had so controversially let him go, after keeping in out of the side, he has worked wonders for Newcastle United, not least his destruction of their defence in the astonishing game in which Newcastle, doomed to relegation, had thrashed the aspirant Spurs 5-1 – though reduced for much of the match to ten men.
Raheem Sterling who for weeks had been confined to the Manchester City bench, got a place in the squad and to be fair did well enough in his appearance as a substitute, notably when he crossed from the left to set up that breathlessly late winning goal by Chris Smalling against a depleted Portugal; without Cristiano Ronaldo!
But Roy’s selections that night were baffling. A three-man attack with Wayne Rooney, surely too advanced in years for such a role, at centre forward. And Jamie Vardy stuck out and wasted on the left wing when he had spent the whole season triumphantly showing his prowess, pace and final execution as a central striker for Leicester City – now hoist with their own petard, Vardy’s latest contract enabling him to move, if another club offered a modest £20 million.
As for the formation, widely expected to be a diamond, with Jack Wilshere operating just in front of the back line, which went by the board when he came on late, deployed in central midfield, to produce a series of shrewd passes under pressure, which showed how valuable he can be in a more advanced role.
Provided always of course that he can stay fit. James Milner lasted the whole match in central midfield but it was hard to see why. Once a strong, elusive right-winger teenage prodigy he is now hardly a midfielder “capable of inventing the game,” as the Italians have it. And scoring.
Worrying indeed that so many great players of the past are suffering from memory loss identified by a comprehensive medical enquiry and clearly the result of constantly heading the ball.
Raising the sad case of Jeff Astle, a notable header of the ball as centre forward West Bromwich Albion, who died some years ago after fearful degeneration to his brain, the palpable results of the infinite times he headed the ball.
The latest alarming list includes both Charlton brothers Bobby and Jack and Nobby Stiles. But the worrying list seems somewhat arbitrary. Jackie, yes, as a centre back he was constantly heading the ball. But Bobby? He seldom headed it at all, though the exception which proved the rule came in the 1968 European Cup Final against Benfica at Wembley, when in fact, he back headed a Manchester United back post goal.
Ask not for whom the ball tolls, you might say, but the implications of the latest research are deeply worrying. The irony being that some of the greatest British headers of the ball – Dixie Dean of Everton, 60 goals in a season, John Charles at Leeds, then with Juventus are not recorded as having any subsequent problems.
So what can be done? Ban heading altogether? This would radically change the game. The appalling statistics from American gridiron football are in a category of their own; this is the sport in which so-called hitting is paramount. Scores of former players are now taking legal action. I wish I could see a way ahead in soccer.