Jerome Valcke has learned, from kicking Brazil down the road to the 2014 World Cup, to become a master of understatement.
The French secretary-general of FIFA is also the world federation’s progress-chaser-in-chief for the delay-battered finals which start in Brazil in just over 100 days’ time.
Famously he caused a diplomatic incident two years ago in complaining that the dawdling Brazilians needed a “kick up the backside.”
Later he observed laconically that the process of marrying FIFA’s Swiss organisational style with Brazilian lassitude meant the World Cup being prepared to the rhythm of ‘FIFA Samba’.
Once a diplomatic truce had been secured the Brazilians organisers and cities and construction companies put on a spurt. But they slowed up again once ticket sales had begun in the sure, cynical knowledge that FIFA was trapped in a local web of indolent cynicism.
Valcke tried, for months last year, to insist that December 31 was the last possible deadline for stadia delivery. All six of the stadia not needed for last year’s Confederations Cup missed the deadline. But FIFA was stuck with them.
Difficult enough bringing the selected stadia to the party; impossible to change them.
Valcke has been spending a week or more of every month in Brazil. He know the idealism of the bid very well since he drew up the original bid document in 2007 while in another life beyond the FIFA bubble.
He has learned to be more careful with his words; he (and FIFA) cannot afford any indelicacies which might provoke even half a day’s interruption in Brazil’s World Cup race against time.
Hence the circumspection, at the side of Saturday’s International Board meeting, when he was asked to compare his World Cup experiences.
Valcke said, modestly: “I’m not a World Cup specialist.” Then he added: “I worked on the 2006 World Cup [in Germany] then I really (!) worked 2010 [in South Africa]. I will not say this is the easiest one.
Ideally, the hosts prepare the ground, literally, by the end of the year before the World Cup finals and then FIFA, its contractors and partners move in to build the temporary supporting infrastructure essential for sponsor needs, hospitality, media, telecommunications, etc.
At least, in an ideal World Cup.
Brazil is not such a beast. At least South Africa had the excuse that nothing similar to a World Cup had ever been staged in the African continent, let alone in the Rainbow Nation; rugby and cricket tours were no comparison in terms of nationwide complexity.
Thus FIFA could, as much as possible, direct operations.
Not in Brazil. Local pride has sought to hold FIFA’s operational experts at arm’s length. Worse, whatever the Brazilians have not or have not achieved, has been within a bureaucratic system of Kafkaesque proportions.
Hence FIFA’s extended family is having to work in and around the construction work still ongoing. The challenge is not to present the perfect World Cup but, at the very least, a World Cup which will work somehow, one way or another.
As Valcke explains: “We are just over 100 days from the first game in a [Sao Paulo] stadium which is not ready and will not be ready until May 15 and we have other stadia which are not ready either.
“There is full support from President Dilma Rouseff, full support from the government and full support from the organising committee and from the different cities.
“The goal is that on June 12 everything will be working well. But whenever you have something late it is a challenge to make it ready on time.
“For example, we still have to install all the IT solutions for the media. Without IT and without the telecommunications in place in the stadia you will say we are the worst organisers and it was the worst event.
“But to install the IT in a stadium needs at least 90 days and we have to work for all the other people who also have their interests such as our commercial partners, our media partners, hospitality and so on. We are having to work in situations where the cement is not even dry.
“But it will work in the end and you will have what you expect and the teams will have the best [conditions] because the stadia are the best.”
Valcke added: “It is just a challenge for the organisers.”
Once more, the master of understatement.