Sport Soccer

Thursday 25 May 2017

Annus horribilis complete for sorry England

FIFA president Sepp Blatter congratulates Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov after the announcement that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018. Photo: Getty Images
FIFA president Sepp Blatter congratulates Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov after the announcement that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018. Photo: Getty Images

Henry Winter and Sam Wallace

Deep into the darkest, coldest, cruellest Swiss night, the shock over England's 2018 World Cup humiliation slowly subsided but the raging at Fifa remained.

"We were stitched up," confided a member of the England bid team. "The prime minister was stitched up. He thought he had a number of votes locked down."

He didn't. For all the hours put in by UK prime minister David Cameron, for all the glad-handing by David Beckham and Prince William, England managed just one vote, along with that of Geoff Thompson. England went out in the first round; even Fabio Capello's side reached the second World Cup stage in the summer. The annus horribilis was complete.

Recriminations abounded on a day of dismay for England and shame for Fifa. Some within the England team pointed to Fifa's ire over Monday night's 'Panorama' programme, believing it to be the reason why the accused Jack Warner turned against them. Others just fulminated privately about Fifa, about the decision to go for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

Some logic can be detected in Fifa thinking over the land of the Great Bear, which has never hosted the World Cup before and boasts a past footballing pedigree in Lev Yashin and current stars like Andrey Arshavin, whose emotional speech here yesterday was genuinely moving.

Yet the real scandal in Fifa-ville was the decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar, a soulless, featureless, air-conditioned, cramped place with so little connection to football it required hired hands like Pep Guardiola. It was as if Fifa were saying "to hell with the fans". Qatar 2022 will be a joyless experience for supporters.

credible

"Russia and Qatar are the new frontiers, I guess," reflected a rueful Paul Elliott of the England bid team. "We just believed we were a great pair of hands; we were just about giving to the world, not taking."

Giving and taking. Fifa's credibility was battered yesterday, not by any allegations of corruption but by the cynical game of collusion and vote-trading that patently went on in Fifa House. All the fish are soiled.

The sense of anger within the England team was inescapable. On and off the pitch, England have gone backwards over the past decade; having gained five votes in the failed, vilified bid for the 2006 World Cup, England received only two this time. Two! Thompson and one another. So England, home to the world's most popular league, boasts only one friend in world football.

Just as Fifa's credibility has taken a hammering, so has the FA's.

The chief executive of their 2018 bid, Andy Anson, offered a brutal summary of the country's position in world football when he admitted: "I don't think people do like us". Intimating that there was also resentment of the success of the Premier League, he added: "You know what, we have got the strongest league in the world and we are proud as hell of it and that is not going to change."

Anson also questioned how England could finish first in Fifa's technical and economic evaluations into the bidding nations and yet attract so few votes from the 22 men on the all-powerful committee.

"I honestly felt that we had enough comfort, enough people, to hope that things would go all right and we would go through the first round. We woke up thinking this," he said.

Anson described the money spent on the technical report as "£3m down the drain" as "the two bids with the worst technical reports won". He added: "I do feel that some people let us down. I would be lying if I said they didn't let us down. Clearly people who promised us their vote didn't vote for us."

The pressure brought to bear on England by the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who accused the English media of "smearing" Fifa in all but name in a statement on Wednesday, was thought to have been decisive.

Putin did not even travel to Zurich for the announcement but it is understood that ExCo members feel confident that their affairs will not attract the same level of scrutiny in Russia.

There was another key moment in the Spanish presentation yesterday when the Spanish ExCo member, Angel Maria Villar Llona, ended his speech by claiming that there was a "slander" campaign against Fifa. Another clear reference to investigations by the BBC 'Panorama' programme and the 'Sunday Times' it was thought to represent a call to arms to Executive Committee members to protect their own.

Two of the ExCo have already been suspended in the light of 'Sunday Times' revelations. The award of the 2022 World Cup final to the tiny emirate of Qatar did little to dispel fears that the Fifa voting process was flawed.

Elliott, a prominent anti-racism campaigner, voiced concerns over a World Cup in Russia. "For the sake of world football, I hope the Russians can make the same progress as we have done with Kick It Out and look to guidance on how to deal with it," he said.

"I would say to the Russians, look at the fabulous work we've done in England to make it a very diverse, multi-racial community."

The fallout from Fifa's day of shame will continue. (© Daily Telegraph and other agencies)

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