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Saturday, June 4, 2011

PREMIER REPORT

Blatter's arrogance off the charts


LONDON — Sepp Blatter has presided over the most corrupt era in the history of FIFA. While not suggesting he has been involved in any impropriety, he is certainly guilty of not noticing half his executive committee has done enough to either been found guilty of or implicated in backhanders, bungs and golden envelopes.

Christopher Davies

In any other sport or industry the top man would either have the decency to step aside, or if not, be stripped of his job by his peers. Blatter has a very special arrogance and would not even consider resigning while 186 national associations around the world this week decided Sepp was the right man to lead what they call the FIFA family for another four years.

It is easy to understand why and it must be remembered that in re-electing the president the votes of Spain, Germany, Japan or England count as much as those from Ethiopia or Ventura.

The GOAL program initiated by Blatter gives national associations, usually those of developing countries (but whose votes are crucial) payments of $500,000 and up toward new pitches or anything deemed necessary to help the growth of their domestic football.

While not suggesting any money handed over is not used for these purposes, it is easy to appreciate why the Cook Islands and San Marino would want the guy who has done so much for them to stay in power.

Until American Chuck Blazer turned whistle blower, the executive committee had stuck together like super glue, FIFA being one of the last one-party dictatorships in the world.

Under Blatter, being an exco member has been lucrative, latest figures showing salaries and expenses paid to the then-24 men who run world football plus five top management personnel amounted to £20.3 million. That averages out at around £700,000 each per year, a good earner when you consider all first-class flights, five-star hotels and subsistence are paid for.

Who approved the payments?

FIFA's finance committee, which is made up of four executive committee members.

Those exco members who retire after 2005 having served at least eight years are entitled to a pension. Money may not be able to buy you love, but they are the sort of payments that breed loyalty.

FIFA is self-regulating and too often allegations of illegal payments to those on the exco are met with "there is nothing to investigate." So there is no investigation even in the face of what appears to be overwhelming evidence.

Though FIFA's inspectors gave a hugely negative report of Qatar's ability to stage a World Cup, 14 members of the exco gave the country rated 92nd in the rankings, and whose summer temperature are akin to a sauna, the green light. Of course, being FIFA, no public explanation as to why it went against its own inspectors was given. No wonder eyebrows were raised.

* * *

ALMOST OVERLOOKED in the wake of coverage given to Barcelona's beautiful game and the ugliness that surrounded Sepp Blatter's re-election as FIFA president is Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifying tie between England and Switzerland at Wembley.

The game will not reach the heights of Barcelona's 3-1 Champions League defeat of Manchester United or provide the drama of Swansea's 4-2 win over Reading in last Monday's Championship playoff final.

Exciting matches involving Switzerland are collector's items, and while Wembley should witness a home win, the game seems unlikely to remain long in the memory.

England easily beat the clockmeisters 3-1 in Basel last December. There is no room for error this time, because England leads Group G only on goal difference from Montenegro, which is proving stubborn opponent in the only qualifying group that does not contain a previous European champion.

True, Switzerland did beat Spain at the 2010 World Cup finals thanks to a display high on perspiration and organization, but in the 2012 qualifiers the Swiss have only beaten Wales (as most people do) and have taken four points from their four matches to date.

The absence of the Manchester United striker and the injuries to Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll will present the ideal opportunity for Darren Bent to prove to Fabio Capello, who left him out of the 2010 World Cup squad that he must go to Poland and Ukraine for next year's European finals.

Bent will forever be remembered for the famous quote by Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, who said, after the striker had fluffed a simple chance against Portsmouth two years ago: "Even my Mrs. could have scored that."

Maybe, but the occasional clinical finisher that is Mrs Redknapp is unlikely to have come anywhere near Bent's recent record. He scored 32 goals in 58 games for Sunderland before his £24 million move to Aston Villa in January — nine goals in 16 matches is a record just about any striker would be happy with. Bent has also scored in his last three England games.

Against Switzerland, Bent will be assisted by his Villa teammate Ashley Young in providing the spark of inspiration going forward. Young, linked with a move to Manchester United, teamed up well with Bent against Ghana and is growing into his role in the England squad.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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