Tuesday 24 April 2018

Gary Neville: Time for players to step up and lead a revolution

Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini at yesterday’s FIFA Congress
Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini at yesterday’s FIFA Congress

Gary Neville

The only time I have ever been in the presence of Sepp Blatter was in October 2013, when he was the guest speaker at the Football Association's 150th anniversary dinner.

I had been invited in my role as an England coach and the room was full of the great and good of English and world football.

I had Gianfranco Zola, Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano, Terry Venables and Gareth Southgate alongside me on our table.

When Blatter began to speak, he did okay for the first two or three minutes, saying a few complimentary things to his audience, but the speech then descended into something that just became a hideous experience.

He went on for 25-30 minutes and, just when you thought he had finished, he started up again. It reminded me of one of those candles on a child's birthday cake which you think has been blown out, only for the flame to flicker back into life.

When he spoke about issues such as sexism and racism in football, it just did not sit comfortably. It was a bizarre half-hour from a man who appeared out of touch and someone who had run his race. The events of this week surrounding the FIFA presidential election have been incredible, but no real surprise to anybody involved in the game, as a supporter, player or official.

As for Uefa and Michel Platini coming out and calling for Blatter to stand down, it is a worrying sign if we have to hang our hat on Platini.

With France voting for Blatter, Platini can't even control his own federation, never mind Uefa.

We have to stress that no charges of wrongdoing have been brought against Blatter, but what he cannot escape is the stain on FIFA's and football's reputation that has been caused during his time in charge of the organisation.

Running FIFA should be the easiest job in the world because all you have to do is put on a World Cup every four years, persuade enough sponsors to pay for it and then leave the teams to get on with it in front of thousands of fans. Once this is done, distribute the money in a fair manner.

But FIFA has become a sideshow and I find it obscene that such a powerful and influential body can have such an individual in charge whilst so much wrong crawls around him.

Yet while people are talking about sponsors or fans getting rid of Blatter and forcing change in the organisation, nobody is mentioning the role that the players can play and, in my opinion, they are the group that can wield the greatest power.

Finding a way to get rid of Blatter has become near on impossible. Firstly, the vote for president depends on countries and associations voting for change and that has not happened in any of Blatter's previous election campaigns.

Then you have the sponsors and broadcasters, but all we get from those are vanilla press releases which talk of concern and desire for change and how they condemn poor ethical practice. At the end of the day, companies will always want to sponsor a World Cup and broadcasters will be desperate to show it.


Then you have the supporters. Many fans across the world will be angry with FIFA for many different reasons and some will talk of boycotting tournaments and go through with it.

But for every supporter who turns their back on FIFA's tournaments, others will happily take their place because the World Cup is too big for them to pass up the chance to watch.

However, there is one body of people that could bring Blatter down that has hardly warranted a mention - the players.

The quickest and best way to bring Blatter down is to take players away from him. You will struggle to take the African or Asian votes away from him, but players can become a unified force It really is all down to the players and the organisations such as FIFPro and the PFA to use their power and position to hold FIFA and Blatter to account.

I am not long out of professional football and whilst some players won't break stride in their own lives there will be many players across the world who will look at the events of this week, and beyond, and shake their heads in disbelief and think it is just wrong.

This isn't just about issues such as hosting a World Cup in Qatar.

Personally, I don't have a problem with a World Cup being played in our winter in the Middle East because it is a global game and there should be scope for that area to host the tournament once every 24 years. I do genuinely believe, as a player, that you should do the job you are there to do, which is to play football and stay out of the politics of the game.

However this is about players wielding their power against corruption. I would expect management committee members of PFAs around the world to demand to know what could be done to ensure that the voice of the players was heard.

And FIFPro, who have issued a statement this week condemning FIFA, should be canvassing the opinion of every national team captain in the world to find out their views and feelings about the situation.

I am not suggesting that players should go out on a limb by going on strike, but FIFA and Blatter would be nothing without the players. It would need to be a coordinated and united force. Just think of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two biggest stars in the game right now, and consider a World Cup without those two.

The tournament would not exist if Ronaldo and Messi turned their backs on the World Cup because of the way FIFA is running the game. This would impact sponsors and broadcasters and in turn bring this whole debacle of an organisation to a standstill.

But it is not down to individual players to lead the way by becoming a lone wolf in this.

It is about the organisations that have been set up by the players to deal with this because former players such as David Ginola and Luis Figo have tried to take on Blatter, but they have been unable to make any inroads.

But this is different. Blatter has reigned over turmoil for years now and he is the man at the top of the operation, but he is still in charge and it is beyond laughable and unprecedented, in politics, sport or industry, where one individual can remain in power like this Maybe the only way to get rid of him is if players get together and vote not to play in his tournaments.

If that happens, he is done. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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