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Triesman on trial as England expects

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Matt Slater | 13:30 UK time, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

There is a moment in All Played Out, Pete Davies' fly-on-the-wall account of England's 1990 World Cup campaign, when Bobby Robson tells the author that his numerous critics in the media would be shot as traitors "if this was a war".

I was reminded of this a fortnight ago when I asked Lord Triesman, the chairman of England's bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, how he thought the bid was going - "much better than our colleagues in the media believe", was his reply.

All of us who would like to see the world's greatest football competition staged in this country again should pray the good lord is right, because this bid is bust if the British media is correct. A dripping tap of negativity became a tsunami of scorn last week when the bid team gathered for what looked like the dictionary definition of a crisis meeting.

But before we get to what happened there, we should ask a more pertinent question: how did a rock-solid bid, which ticks so many boxes, lose the home front?

The short answer, and one many have gone for, is Triesman himself.

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Lord Triesman says media in other countries stand "very squarely behind their bids"

The 66-year-old has been dividing opinion since he became the Football Association's first independent chairman in early 2008. A background in academia, trade unionism and Westminster politics did not immediately cry out "football man" and his appointment surprised many.

In the interest of brevity, I will skip his first year in charge, stopping only to note the enemies he acquired: his predecessor Geoff Thompson (turfed out ahead of schedule), the Premier League (furious with his statements about club debt), his "friends" in government (they weren't that friendly in the first place) and the media (he was just too good a target).

And that's just the day job. When he also became chairman of England's 2018 bid, he managed to upset these people all over again with a series of blunders that do not matter when people like you but become indictments when they don't.

So, as short answers go, the "it's all Triesman's fault" explanation looks solid.

There is a slight problem with this theory, though. Life at the top of the national game isn't that simple.

There is no doubt Triesman's time in charge has been bumpy, but most of those bumps have been a long time coming. For example, any independent chairman worth his salt would have fallen out with the Premier League at some point. Upsetting Thompson was clumsy, but the man the Mail on Sunday described as a "rumour" was hardly putting in a great shift.

In terms of the 2018 bid, Triesman has presided over mistakes (the make-up of the original board and an unseemly squabble about his pay being the most serious) but most of them have been inconsequential in the long run.

In truth, there is nothing straightforward about a process that brings together English football's estranged bedfellows (FA, Football League and Premier League) for an election campaign that will be decided by characters as diverse as German football great Franz Beckenbauer and Trinidadian football executive Jack Warner.

Winning the right to stage a World Cup is about as easy to grasp as the fifth season of Lost, Mandarin Chinese and Rafa Benitez's faith in Lucas Leiva.

England's bid has plenty going for it - passionate fans, decent infrastructure, great stadia, bags of tradition and so on - and probably warrants its front-runner status. Unfortunately, all of that matters but not as much as it should.

England's bid for the 2006 World Cup looked pretty good on paper, too, but is now remembered as a textbook example of how not to run a campaign because it arrogantly ignored the darker arts of a bidding process.

What really makes the difference to the 24 members of Fifa's executive committee who make this decision next December is (in ascending order of cynicism) what you offer world football, each voter's national federation and each voter himself.

That ranges from selling lots of tickets, to playing friendlies in far-flung places, to trading favours. A bidding country must remember who the electorate is and tell them exactly what they want to hear, when and where they want to hear it.

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South Africa's 2010 chief Danny Jordaan tells Matt Slater that England's bid "has a good chance" of succeeding

Thankfully, this message has finally got through.

A bruising month - during which the aforementioned Warner moaned about not being given a plastic bag only to completely lose it when the bid team gave him a £230 designer one - has ended with a clear-out.

Five board members, including the current sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, have been demoted to an advisory panel, while the government's "envoy", former sports minister Richard Caborn, was not even invited to the emergency summit, which should give you a clue as to his fate.

Going the opposite direction and joining the board is Thompson, who, as a Fifa executive committee member, is the only Englishman who can actually guarantee at least one vote.

A late call-up has also been given to former Arsenal boss David Dein. He does not get a seat on the board, but he will get a chance to boost his air miles by taking the England 2018 message abroad.

These changes do not add up to a "Cassani moment" as neither Thompson nor Dein come close to matching the charm, energy or profile that Seb Coe brought to London's 2012 campaign when he replaced Barbara Cassani, but they will help. And it is worth noting that Coe, who also sits on the 2018 board, was instrumental in getting Triesman and his chief executive Andy Anson to see this.

Hopefully, Anson and his staff can now get on with the job in hand. They need to stop moaning about power struggles at the top and give up on the idea that Gordon "a golden decade of sport" Brown is going to give them any more public money.

A government source told me the PM cannot believe he is taking flak for withholding £2.5m from Britain's richest sport during this country's worst recession, particularly when his government has received few thanks for delivering millions of pounds' worth of guarantees for boring but important items like security costs and free visas.

But that's what happens to politicians when people give up on them: the same does not apply to Triesman, not yet anyway.

England's sales pitch remains strong. It might lack the cash of the US bid, the unequivocal political support of Russia's, the novelty value of going to Australia or Spain/Portugal's powerful friends, but each of those bids has its own weaknesses and none can call on the global popularity of the Premier League.

The careful use of iconic brands like David Beckham will help, too - his expensively-arranged presence in Cape Town next month for the 2010 World Cup draw adds pizzazz to England's bid.

The South Africa trip is the perfect opportunity for Triesman and co to show they have been listening. It is a chance they cannot afford to let slip. Regain the initiative there and today's "handbags" can be tomorrow's fish wrappers.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Two pops at Benitez from the BBC 'bloggers' in a day!

    Surely a record...

  • Comment number 2.

    Personally, I wouldn't waste time bowing and scraping to FIFA delegates. If we can't have it without the politics, do we really want it? Not a massive 'Keano' fan, but 'clown' is actually being nice about people like Warner. It's time there was more representation within associations from normal everyday fans. Football doesn't belong to FIFA and big business, because if there were no money from paying fans they wouldn't be interested. Football is the peoples game and it should be returned to them.Fan ownership should be compulsory and fans should be represented on FA boards. Forget the politicians, lets get our game back.

  • Comment number 3.

    What was the other one, BeyondThePale? Was it Lucas-related? Cheap shot, I know, but he isn't very good, is he?

    dmrichkt, in a perfect world we wouldn't have to. But this is Warner's world and unfortunately he commands at least one and perhaps three World Cup votes. The funny thing about JW, though, is that I can see him voting for us in the end. All this moaning is just part of the process with him. His vote(s) will be up for grabs right up until the last minute. And then it will get very exciting if his "first" choice gets knocked out in the first round. We'll then see where his allegiance really lies.

  • Comment number 4.

    If you tried watching him from the Newcastle 5-1 win up until now you'd realise that he's actually getting better and better - and he's good enough to get into the Brazil squad, unlike a certain Brazilian down the road who cost nearly three times as much, but it seems to be BBC policy not to mention that.

    And to be fair to you, the other Benitez pop was in the quotes of the week - it was pretty rubbish, but a veiled go at Benitez had to be in there otherwise it just wouldn't be a BBC blog.

  • Comment number 5.

    I am constantly depressed by this story. England has the stadia, the transport links, the passionate supporters, and the political will to host any major football tournament, so why all the wrangling and posturing? Why do we hear of insults traded over handbags? Why is Beckham paid £100,000 to fly to South Africa? Is it to tell the people there that Old Trafford is a good-size stadium and that the M65 connects people really quickly between Ewood Park and Turf Moor? Of course not! Trivia such as handbag gifts and Beckham's grinning mug are all about the superficial, smarmy, self-important side of such bids. As I said: depressing.

  • Comment number 6.

    OK, I'll give you that, Lucas is better than Jo.

    Lee Holden, you're right, it is depressing. But it's all part of the game, I'm afraid. One small thing, though, I'm not sure if Becks is actually being paid £100k for the trip. The way I've heard it is that £150k is being spent on getting him there but that money is going on chartering a plane for him and his security staff, plus all the usual expenses and insurance costs. I also believe that the charter company are putting up most of that money...a good advert, I suppose.

  • Comment number 7.

    An interesting article which indicates how frustrating it is to have the game we all love run by FIFA. I remember a fantastic Panorama programme on the corruption within FIFA. Whilst we will have to pander to their every whim to ensure that the bid falls our way I hope that once it is done we can make FIFA into the respected organisation it should be.

    I think that any failure on our part to win the World Cup bid will be largely due to the fact that it is far too easy too lose. Or, FIFA will award it to someone undeserving to spite us.

  • Comment number 8.

    As usual we Brits are trying to talk ourselves out of something worth winning. We were the same BEFORE we won the Olympics, bickering went on for two years afterwards showing a lack of national discipline which would be intolerable in any military organisation.

    What's just happened, in effect, is a shake-up in the backroom staff of a football team. The manager's not been sacked, the Chairman's taken some flak but is still there and the Board has been strengthened by a reshuffling of the pack. Now they've got to get on with it and the time for recriminations should be if we lose, not right now. Piercing but constructive criticism is justifiable. Trashing isn't.

    It's good to see a communications professional has just been hired. That's usually Britain's failing in the early stages of these sorts of things. People want to be reassured when not much is happening in the public arena, which is what happens when you put a technical bid together and start doing the political lobbying. So its a good idea to manage that process with a regular set of real stories to reassure folks that things are getting done.

    If we win, thereafter things become simpler. Like with the Olympics, there may be some new stadia to build, maybe some infrastructure to upgrade, some new hotels to be built. Look at the news you see on 2012: key construction milestones on the main stadium; putting the roof on the aquatics centre; completing the steel structure for the media centre etc etc etc.

    So the next key news will be which cities are chosen to be hosts in the bid - that happens before Christmas I think. Nice piece of publicity for the bid, which will need professional management of those who were unsuccessful, particularly if the decision has been close. Someone has to lose and there have to be criteria for selection. Nothing's perfect, but a decision must be taken and people must back that decision unless it's manifestly stupid.

    David Dein will be able to highlight who he has been talking to, without necessarily divulging what was said - he'll be in South Africa with Beckham, so I'm sure England's 'share of voice' with FIFA delegates will be OK there.

    Spurs will be able to highlight if and when they start building their new stadium - hopefully it will before the decision is made next December.

    If Crossrail will improve communication in any way for a World Cup, then reporting that and when it starts will also contribute momentum. Boris Johnson may see access to Olympic Park as a justification for using the stadium for 2018. There may be other issues in regard to that which I wouldn't know about....

    There's a huge set of positive stories that can be run about this bid.

    It's just important that people judge what's important and what's stories for the sake of stories.

    A fine balance to decide on.

    That's what the team should be doing right to earn their spondoolies......

  • Comment number 9.

    Good blog Matt

    Can i just point out that you are quite correct in relation to the plane being chartered for David Beckham the company is paying 50% of the costs and David himself is paying the other 50%.

    Top man hope he helps in our quest to win the rights to host the World Cup!!!

  • Comment number 10.

    Matt - much as dislike to correct you, you should make it clear that the Brazil-England match at the weekend wasn't played in Doha as a way of attracting Arab votes or for anything to do with the World Cup bid. It was simply the team who 'manage' Brazil's rights (the same ones who put an England qualifier on the web) choosing a location for the reverse fixture to the England-Brazil match which opened Wembley. Part of the pay off for that match, if you will.

    Playing matches in the Carribean on the other hand ...

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Jordan D, yep, you're absolutely right about Brazil and Kentaro, the Harlem Globe Trotters of world football don't play 'home' matches anymore, do they? Can't be right that. And it was the Trinidad trip I had in mind. Not that it appears to have done us much good at the moment. I stress "appears", though. Warner is playing a canny game.

    LABSAB9, I agree. DB gets a lot of grief but you can't fault his willingness to pitch in for old Blighty when asked. Did a great turn in Singapore for the Olympics, too.

    rjaggar, can't disagree with any of that. I was trying to strike a balance between holding Triesman et al to account for the mistakes that have been made, whilst pointing out that those mistakes haven't been as disastrous as the papers (and us) have reported, and then throwing the debate forward to the bit that really matters - the next 12 months.

    Thoughtsonfootball, I share your concerns. When I think about the "golden decade of sport" we've been promised (and I have welcomed) it is the World Cup that SHOULD be the easiest to deliver and least bother. I think the Olympics will be great and get very annoyed with some of the nimbyish/defeatist nonsense I read about 2012, but I can understand where that comes from. I don't agree with it but I do see how people might think the Olympics are too expensive/irritating/big/only for London/whatever. But I don't buy that at all for the World Cup. When you think about the main criticisms of the Olympics none of those apply to the World Cup. The goodies will be spread around the country and the costs are relatively small, certainly in terms of public finance. We also know we can stage big global football events, we do it most weekends, and it is by far the most popular sport in the UK and abroad. My fear is that our luck cannot last: Olympics, Commonwealths, rugby world cups, Ryder Cups, Champs League, Cricket World Cup etc Is it too much to ask that we'll get a football World Cup too? Particularly when we know the the best technical bid doesn't always win?

  • Comment number 12.

    Matt - have you read Andrew Jennings' book 'Foul!: The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals' ?

  • Comment number 13.

    anything that involves Jack Warner is always going to be fraught with, shall we say 'intrigue', to put it the kindest possible way. Yes, he is part of the process but he is also an integral part of the problem with FIFA and the mass-mess of politics that swirl amongst the huge amounts of money washing around the game.

  • Comment number 14.

    TommyO, I haven't read Foul but it's on my list. I've met Andrew J a couple of times and he is tremendous fun. He does stuff for Private Eye now and has his own website, which can always be relied upon for a funny story about Warner.

    I think he also knows Triesman from back in their student politico days.

    You're right, Thom, Jack Warner is usually pretty close to wherever there are huge amounts of money washing around.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think fans have no say in the game today and its a disgrace. Surely the 'World game' should have more fan input. Thus why not let each country hold a poll to vote for which venue they want the next World Cup to be held at? FIFA could narrow down the applications to say 6 - all of which will be profitable and would also suit FIFA. Then let the fans, and not the idiots who run FIFA, have the right to vote for their favourite bid. Each country has its own poll and then has 'one vote' so to speak. Then the global community can decide where the next World Cup is held. FIFA can implement laws to stop any country hosting it within 40 years, or any continent getting it more than twice in a row etc etc. To me this seems pretty reasonable, the only downside is the corrupt clowns at FIFA couldn't make so much tainted money, so clearly they would never adopt this idea.

    Anyone else like the idea?

  • Comment number 16.

    Like it or not, if we want the 2018 World Cup in England we need to play the football politics. Belated recognition that too many members of the 2018 bid team were adding minimal value is at least one positive step.

    Without any shadow of doubt Lord Triesman is the wrong person to lead this bid (which is different to the need to have him as part of the bid team). To persuade FIFA representatives, the front man should be an articulate footballing icon - not many of those around I hear you say. David Dein will be a good champion behind the scenes but we need someone prepared to put in the hours in front of the cameras and committees around the World.

    Now that it looks unlikely that he'll be returning to manage Newcastle my money goes to Alan Shearer. But my money won't get him - the FA needs to put their hands into their pockets and offer him the necessary contract that will better his current media contracts. On top of that offer him a share to the rights of the book that explains how the bid was won.

    And finally, let's spend a bit more time wooing the British media. Like the 2012 Olympics, this offers everyone the opportunity to show we have the capacity to put on a great tournament and be a welcoming host to the rest of the World. We need our own media to believe and write that before we go selling our case elsewhere.


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