Are FIFA Impartial?

August 25, 2001

Just how impartial are FIFA?

Interesting goings on across the Tasman where the Socceroos are starting to prepare for their four-yearly “win at all costs” match. Unbelievably, Australia’s * and Oceania’s * most important match in 4 years still does not have a date set, though it is now a maximum of just 75 days until it is played.

Last Friday, the draw was made for the play off match between the Oceania winner and South Americas’ fifth placed team. Australia, apparently, came out of the crystal glass first and are therefore scheduled to play at home in the first leg. This fits in nicely with Soccer Australia who have organised a match with world champions France at the MCG on November 11.

Of course the initial reaction for Australia is one of disappointment. The psychological benefits of playing the second leg at home are well known. Generally teams will spend half the first leg feeling each other out & valuable home leg time wasted. And if the away team scores well you could just about be forgiven for thinking that it is all over. Then the home team in the second leg will have the advantage of knowing their opponent better and being able to exploit any weaknesses for longer. Of course if the match goes into extra time then that, obviously, is to the benefit of the home team in the second leg who will have more time playing on their ground, in their familiar conditions and in front of their partisan fans.

This time though there is a huge benefit for Australia to play the first leg at home. In fact it was crucial. Why? FIFA regulations of course! Article 6 of FIFA’s World Cup regulations clearly states that “Any playoffs shall have been contested by November 25, 2001”. However, the final round of CONMEBOL matches won’t be completed until November 14, 2001 – the 15th in Australia. Given the closeness of the competition any one of four countries could be Australias opponent. Indeed it is quite likely that the fifth placed side won’t be known until after that last round of qualifiers.

This means then that the 5th placed side will need to leave South America, travel halfway around the world, play a crucial world cup match and then travel half way around the world again, before playing an even more crucial match at home – all in the space of ten days. When Australia announce November 17 or 18 as the date of the home leg, the South Americans will no doubt protest. “That won’t give us time to prepare adequately” they will scream. However any later than that, and there won’t, realistically, be enough time to get back to South America for the return leg.

And FIFA will be left with a choice. Follow the regulations – THEIR regulations – or bend the rules. Now if the rules ARE “bent” then obviously you would think Australia would then protest and again the ball would lie in FIFA’s court. Ultimately FIFA will have to decide and if they are impartial then Australia will have a huge advantage.

Unfortunately I think back to January 1982 and China v New Zealand in “neutral” Singapore when we requested Australia as a neutral venue.

I think back to years of fighting to have Oceania recognised as a valid and viable confederation.

I think back to Oceanias never ending battle to have one solitary single direct representative out of thirty two world cup qualifiers. After all, the best 5 African nations qualify, the best 4 Asian nations qualify, the best 4 South American nations qualify and the best 3 North American nations qualify. Oceania gets NONE.

And I think I know which way FIFA will decide. Especially if Brazil are the Aussies opponents.


Professional referees

August 25, 2001

This season the FA have introduced “professional referees” to the Premiership.

Well not introduced them exactly but at least turned previously “part time” officials into full time officials. I wonder what they hope to achieve from it?

Are we to believe that referees will be better now that they are full time? I doubt it for two reasons.

Firstly, the implication is that referees were not doing the job to the best of their ability because they were part time. That’s a bit hard to take. Last years refs are all of a sudden better because now they get paid more? Taking that implication further, the refs for the last 120 or so years were all substandard? Interesting one that. Certainly some were! Anybody else remember a certain Mr Sudarso? I still think he was well paid that day at Mt Smart!

Secondly, how does being paid more enable you to referee better? “I’ve doubled my wage so, yes, he is offside?”. “I’m on $2500 a week so that’s a yellow card for you!”.

Its ludicrous.

For years referees have put in as much effort as possible to their job. It has never been a case of turning up at say Stamford Bridge at 2:30 and getting changed ready for 3 o’clock. Referees usually travel to the city of their appointment the night before the game and leave the day after it. They are required to achieve and maintain a certain level of fitness if they want to stay at the top level. They are required to retire when they reach a certain age. They regularly attend courses and seminars designed to alert them to the changing face of football – the tactics, the cynicism, the potential hazards involved in refereeing at the top. In addition they often officiate at midweek matches which can take a further two days out of the working week. Hardly part time really is it?

But now that they are paid more they will be better. They haven’t got off to a good start have they? On Monday this week we saw David Elleray send off one player who surely only deserved a booking, leave unpunished a shocking tackle which deserved a red card, award a penalty against a defender who clearly fouled nobody and then sent that defender off when the incident was not a foul, not cynical, and if it was a foul wasn’t a professional foul. He was criticised severly by both managers.

If Mr Elleray is the “new improved breed of professional referee” I want the old part time ones back – except Mr Sudarso of course.

The Rich Getting Richer?

August 11, 2001

In the past two weeks we have seen a number of reports which suggest that Celtic and Rangers are on the verge of leaving the Scottish League and joining the English premiership. Its not the first time of course. This scenario has been talked about for years, in fact it used to be that Hearts and Hibs would also join and form a so-called “British Superleague”. Is it any closer to happening this time?

I doubt it – UEFA have already poured cold water on the idea, despite existence of a number of teams worldwide doing a similar thing – but I can fully understand why the Glasgow giants would want to leave their two team league and join the competition down south. Put simply it’s money, or more precisely television money. Those footballing giants from Bradford, Charlton and Southampton all earned far more last season than either Celtic or Rangers could even dream of*yet Celtics average home gate is over 60,000 and Rangers is near enough 50,000. Each team in the premiership receives a bucketload of cash each year from the receipts from Sky’s sponsorship of the game, amounts of money which aren’t available in Scotland purely due to the population size.

England is not alone in this case. Italy, Germany, Spain & France are all growing as the television companies (Rai, Canal+ etc) pour money into the sport. Spanish, Italian and English matches for example are shown live around the world each week and as a result the clubs in these leagues are growing bigger than ever before. However, for the rest of Europe, the “big” clubs are getting left behind. Clubs many of us consider as real giants, can no longer compete on an even footing and sadly UEFA is happy to stand by and watch it happen. Gone are the days when Celtic, Benfica, Ajax or FC Bruges contested European Cup finals. They have become innocent victims of being big teams in small countries. Celtic & Ajax in fact met this week in a Champions league qualifying match.

Last year, Celtic & Rangers got together with the big clubs from Portugal, Belgium, Holland & Scandinavia to try and form the Atlantic League. It was an attempt to form a league which would attract sponsorship and interest wide enough to enable its clubs to compete on an equal footing with Europes more populated countries. Ajax v Benfica, Porto v Anderlecht Feyenoord v Goteborg all sound much more attractive to sponsors than Livingston v Dunfermline, FC Twente v Willem II or Belenenses v Vitoria Guimaraes. On the face of it success was almost guaranteed but UEFA said no. It seems they are happy with the big fish getting bigger and to hell with the rest.

Eventually, for the good of the game, things MUST change and going by the persistent efforts of Celtic and Rangers, change may be coming sooner rather than later.

Loyalty in Football

August 4, 2001

Is loyalty in football completely a thing of the past?

Events over the last couple of weeks would make you think so. Take Sol Campbell’s decision to sign for Arsenal. The whole Campbell saga has been a protracted one covering the last two seasons. By now, we are all aware that Jean-Marc Bosman’s case set a precedent which has altered players contracts for ever. With this in mind Tottenham correctly saw that June 2001 was looming large as the day when the jewel in their crown came to the end of his contract. Spurs had two options – either sell him well before the end of his contract and bank millions which could finance a renewed side or spend the intervening period convincing (begging?) him to stay and risk losing him for nothing. We know now they chose the latter and lost.

Deep down, Spurs fans knew that Campbell was leaving early last season when he refused to confirm that he would still be a Spurs player this coming season. Campbell it seems wanted to win things and he wasn’t doing that at Tottenham – who had regressed to be nothing more than a midtable club along with the West Hams and Leicesters of the world. The fans had no choice but to accept it but hoped that F A Cup success and therefore European football would sway his mind. Ironically, those hopes were dashed at the hands of Arsenal in the semi final. Manchester United were always the favourites for his signature but there was also a good chance that Campbell would go to Europe and Barcelona & Inter Milan, amongst others, were showing interest.

Finally, Campbell delivered the ultimate slur to Spurs fans and signed for Arsenal – Spurs deadly rivals since early last century. It is hard to fathom what it took for Campbell to come to such a decision. In terms of trophy winning surely Liverpool or Man Utd would have been better choices? But in making that decision, he has revealed that he couldn’t care less about Spurs or the supporters who worshipped him in the time he played for them. Spurs, clearly, were just an employer – the people who paid his wages. Nothing more nothing less. If he did have any feelings for the club he, simply, wouldn’t have signed for Arsenal. The animosity between the two clubs is too great. He’s not the first player to play for both clubs. He’s not the first player to transfer between the clubs. In the last 30 years its possible to rattle off names like George Graham, Terry Neill, Willie Young and of course the great Pat Jennings who made the trip across North London. With most of them there was a sound logic or in the case of Willie Young a joke Spurs played on Arsenal! Jennings for example transferred when Spurs were relegated.

Spurs have since revealed that to stay, Campbell asked for GBP20 million over 3 years AND a clause enabling him to leave if Spurs failed to qualify for the Champions League. The mans greed it seems, has no limits. It not surprising Spurs refused him. Money it seems CAN replace winning things.

One can’t help thinking that justice would be done if a reborn Spurs, under Glen Hoddle, finished higher up the league or beat Arsenal in the cup final.

I wonder what Campbell would think then?

New Zealand Football in Chaos

July 7, 2001

Well that’s that for another 4 years.

We thump a few wee island nations and then get thumped ourselves by Australia. On the other side of the Tasman of course, they say “we’ve thumped a few wee island nations and now its time for the 4 yearly ‘win at all costs’ match”. What really hurts is that they are right. New Zealand has become – in footballing terms – a wee island nation. Last Sundays slaughter in Sydney was quite frankly embarrassing. Of the All-Whites only Vaughan Coveny & Noah Hickey came away with pass marks and of those two, only Coveny would get a sniff of a place in the Australian team… and then only if Viduka, Kewell & Agostino stayed away. Can you imagine what the score might have been had those three played?

A few weeks back I wrote that it was important for Oceania to be seen to be competitive and how disturbing it was that Australia had just finished slaughtering teams. I wish Frank Farina had read that article..he might have taken pity on Dugdales Dynamoes. Australia were scoring at will and you couldn’t help thinking that if they had had to score ten they could have. Our sole reply was a penalty and though it was unquestionably a correct award, have you ever seen a softer penalty being given? I’m sure Tony Vidmar must have had 2-1 at half time in the sweep such was his stupid tackle which led to the kick being awarded.

Australia have now well and truly left New Zealand behind and I wonder how long it will be before we can seriously go into a clash with them with some confidence of victory. What was very disappointing was the performance of our overseas “stars” (their word NOT mine). Elliott, Vicelich, Killen, Nelson… one hoped that they would have improved sufficiently to at least provide some resistance to the Ocker onslaught. In truth it was hard to pick them as being any different to the home based players. They too failed to find players when they passed the ball, missed simple tackles, were found ball watching, lacked positional sense & couldn’t track runners. Put simply this New Zealand team was poor in the very basics of the game.

Now is the time to make wholesale changes to the side. Our under 20’s performed admirably against Australia, going down by an extra time golden goal in their two leg play off for a world cup spot. The Australians then progressed to the latter stages of the tournament where they were eliminated by Brazil. Perhaps now is the time to draft the under 20 squad into the first team en masse. Get them playing together and importantly playing together regularly. In 4 years time they may have matured enough to at least be competitive with Australia. They certainly couldn’t do much worse than the current lot.

Australia then have a magic double header to look forward to in November. First they meet France in a friendly in Melbourne and then follow that up with the world cup playoff against a South American country …quite possibly Brazil. I wonder if the All Whites have fixtures set for those weeks and who against? As if. We wouldn’t want to start building for 2006 too early would we?

The End of Professional Football?

June 23, 2001

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for professional football, as we know it?

Last Sunday saw the final rounds in La Liga and Serie A and with them the end of mainstream European football for the 2000-2001 season. The end of one season, of course, heralds the start of the next and clubs across Europe are in the throes of sending out season ticket applications for the 2001-02 season – many with the promise of European football to look forward to. In most cases there will be a rise in the cost of a season ticket and in many cases that rise will be substantial. In Scotland, for example, newly elected champions, Celtic, have increased their season ticket prices by an average of 35%. This is not an out of the ordinary figure. Over the past 11 years, ticket prices in Britain have risen by an average of 400%. A £4.50 ticket at Tottenham in 1987 now costs £27.00!!! That’s a rise of 415% for a club that has never finished higher than 8th in the premiership. What amazes me is that many fans blindly accept the price hikes as part of supporting THEIR club. Party lines along the like of *”if we want to compete with the best then that is what it costs” are all to easily accepted by the faithful supporter. Fair enough to a point. But where will it end? And who is to blame?

The blame of course lies in many places. For a start, the corporatisation of the game requires that clubs make profits in order to attain a desired return on investment for the major shareholder. Profits not high enough? Okay lets increase the prices for a start. Profits down due to an early European exit? Okay lets bastardise the greatest club competition on the planet. Instead of the Champions Cup we’ll call it a Champions League and make it a round robin.. more games = more money = more profit. Oh and in case we don’t win the league this year we’ll allow 2nd and 3rd and even 4th placed teams in it. We’ll still call it the Champions League though because that makes it sound good.

The players and their agents are of course also to blame. Their greed becomes more impressive by the week. Roy Keane collects around £50,000 per week (PER WEEK!!!!!) and then criticises the very supporters Man Utd have to attract in order to meet his demands. “It’s the away fans I like best, they’re the diehards” he said “The home fans come and eat their prawn sandwiches but haven’t a clue about whats going on on the field”. Meanwhile up in Glasgow, European Golden boot winner Henrik Larsson renegotiates his current contract – which still has 2 years to run – to improve his measly £28,000 per week. His family obviously don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

This whole greed cycle is unsustainable. Eventually we must reach a point where supporters are unable to fork out anymore. What we’ll have then is supporters sitting in their homes or in pubs watching pay-per-view (the latest corporate money spinner). As a result, the actual matches will become devalued as an experience, and the football will be reduced to little more than a TV game show.

Now, there will be those who say that this is nonsense and say “pay them what they want” and “I’m a true United fan * and I’ll pay anything to watch them” and that’s fine that’s your choice. But when the game deteriorates, as it is doing at the moment, to a pathetic theme park act who are you going to blame?

Turbulent Times for the World Game

June 16, 2001

What on earth is happening to the World Game?

In the last 12 months or so we have witnessed one of the most turbulent, traumatic times the game has seen. Having recovered from the horrific hooliganism disease which infected the game in the seventies and eighties, we went through a spell in the nineties which now appears to be the calm before the fast approaching storm. Players, administrators, sponsors and business partners alike are combining to propel football from one calamity to the next.

Its hard to know where to start when listing the issues which have cropped up over the last couple of years. I guess FIFA is a good place to start. What were they thinking of when they decided that next years world cup would be co-hosted by Korea and Japan? Talk about avoiding the tough decisions! Two countries reasonably close in geographic location but worlds apart in culture, history and language. We’ve had arguments about the start date, the opening match, the final, the format – even about whose name appears first on the tickets. And on top of that the world cup is scheduled during the rainy season.

After that decision we had the wonderful World Cup that was France 98 – but that ended in controversy with allegations that sponsors Nike demanded that Ronaldo played in the final despite suffering an epileptic fit only hours before kick off. Exactly who is running the game? Brazil were never going to win the trophy with only 10 fit players against a team of such high quality as France.

We then progressed to the FA’s (surely the most revered of ALL committees?) appalling decision to rebuild Wembley. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for r&m jobs – a screw tightened here, a bit of paint there etc – but to pull down the Twin Towers? Are you kidding? It’s sacrilege. The most famous stadium of any kind in the world including the Maracana, the MCG, Wimbledon and Lords. Somehow Abide With Me wasn’t quite the same in Cardiff. And now we find that plans to redevelop the stadium have stalled after admitting that the FA had been unable to raise enough money for the new stadium from the private sector. Blessing in disguise methinks.

In the last month, we have had the collapse of ISL, FIFA’s marketing company which owns the rights to the next two world cups. You would think with FIFA’s backing they would be a safe enough company, and you would think that FIFA would have in fact checked that out. The fall out from that of course was the cancellation of the World Club Championship. That may mean nothing to the Real Madrids and Bayern Munchen’s of the world but to teams like Wollongong Wolves or Hearts of Oak the revenue stream is priceless.

Players aren’t innocent parties either. Dutch superstars Edgar Davids & Frank De Boer have both tested positive for using banned drugs. If these are the two who have been caught how many others are involved? Is this the tip of the iceberg? Is drug use prevalent throughout the sport? or just throughout the Dutch national team?

Bosman & Bosman II have resulted in freedom of contract which has sent players wages absolutely skyrocketing. Roy Keane for example is reportedly on £50 000 per WEEK. How can clubs afford this? Most can’t. Rumour has it that more than half the clubs in the premiership are struggling financially and some are looking bankruptcy in the face. Real Madrid are supposedly technically bankrupt and in Italy it’s the sugar-daddys – the Berlusconi’s and the like – which are keeping the top clubs alive. If you haven’t got a sugar daddy you either can’t compete or you will end up folding.

And the worst thing of all? A look at the ladder in the Conmebol qualifiers sees Brazil struggling and in fourth spot. A world cup without Brazil? Its unthinkable. Who will we support after Dugdales Dynamoes are eliminated? In fact if Brazil don’t qualify why bother having it? The romance will be over.

Its enough to make you take up rugby. After all, rugby’s just a game.