First, a question. When did these events occur (a) 2008; (b) 2009; or (c) 2010?:

Blatter left… for a secret visit to Qatar. There he met the ruler of the country, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifaal-Thani. Khalifaal-Thani has a reputation as a moderniser, a man anxious to open his country’s doors to western investment. His meeting with Blatter was not to discuss innovations. The subject on the agenda was as old as man. Power and how to acquire it. The solution had been around for a while too. Buy it. (Blatter) came away from the meeting with a wealthy backer.

The answer is… er… 1998. This Qatar business has been coming for a long time.

The words come from David Yallop’s 1998 book How They Stole The Game, a well-researched examination of Brazilian former Fifa President Joao Havelange and how football’s priorities changed and ethics evaporated during his 24-year presidency of the game’s world governing body. The original epilogue is the footballing culmination of that presidency, the 1998 World Cup Final in which hosts France hammered a disjointed Brazil 3-0, with Zinedine Zidane the two-goal star and Brazil striker Ronaldo resembling the physical and mental wreck we now know he was.

With some justification, Yallop uses Brazil’s, and especially Ronaldo’s, fate in that match to sum up all that had become wrong with world football under Havelange and Brazilian football under its federation chief Ricardo Teixeira, his former son-in-law. We now know just how much in Havelange’s image and likeness his successor Joseph Blatter has been. But when it was published in 1999, the book would have been a startling insight into how money, and Havelange’s unscrutinised use of it, came to dominate the game’s thinking and governing at its highest level. It certainly startled enough people to become “the book Fifa tried to ban,” as the front cover of the 2011 edition proudly declares (in 2005, Andrew Jennings’ Foul wore the similar phrase “the book that Fifa tried to ban” on its front cover as a badge of honour). Indeed, this attempt was a news story itself at the time.

While Havelange is the book’s main focus, his then recently-elected successor Blatter took especial umbrage at allegations that his 111 votes to 80 victory over the then Uefa president Lennart Johansson in the June 1998 Fifa presidential election was “fixed.” Blatter sought legal redress over 16 passages which he believed defamed his character. He had the book banned in Switzerland but was unable to prevent its publication in Germany (as “Wie das spiel verlorenging” – “how the game was lost”), Austria and, perhaps surprisingly, Havelange’s native Brazil.

This briefly had a chilling effect on publishers. And while the book became widely available, after court rulings in Amsterdam and elsewhere, Blatter hailed a “victory over British author David Yallop” in an April 1999 Fifa website article which claimed: “Yallop has omitted most of these allegations…in the English edition. The German version contained unequivocal charges of corruption and votes for cash. The English version includes veiled insinuations of rumours, speculation and whispered accusations. Yallop has even acknowledged that he has no reason to doubt Joseph Blatter’s version of events.”

The 2011 edition, of which this is a review, does indeed say: “there is at the time of writing no reason not to” accept Blatter’s denial of the “votes for cash” charges. However, in the very next paragraph, Yallop states: “payments were being made to directly influence votes…(and)…this tactic, plus the political channels that were activated, swung it for Blatter.” Extracts from the book which were published by the Observer newspaper in March 2002 reference a “secret visit” in December 1997 by Blatter to a then-unnamed “wealthy backer prepared to activate” these “political channels.” But, such as it was, Blatter’s “victory” was temporary. As Yallop wrote nearly a decade later: “(This) book has not been altered or amended over the past decade. This is the same version that (Blatter) tried to have banned.” The version which names the Qatari emir.

The story, though, is Havelange’s. Yallop interviewed him in May 1998, two weeks before the end of his presidency, “the last I shall be giving as President of Fifa.” And if Havelange believed, as Blatter did when he spoke to the BBC’s Richard Conway, that Yallop would help establish any sort of positive legacy, he was as mistaken as his protégé. In 1998, Yallop was particularly famous for his 1984 expose of Vatican City corruption, In God’s Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I. Unsolved crimes were among his specialities. And, directly or indirectly, Yallop links Havelange to many “unsolved crimes” over many years.

The book has fault lines. Yallop’s view of Latin America strays into cultural stereotype, describing  “the cronyism, the wheeling and dealing, the secret dubious deals, the nepotism, the lack of democracy and the abundance of dictatorial leadership…that have been such a feature of the Havelange presidency” as “an infrastructure that is essentially South American.”

The contrast with honourable Englishman Sir Stanley Rous, whom Havelange ousted as Fifa president in 1974, is marked. South American claims of maltreatment in the 1966 World Cup in England are rightly dismissed as paranoia. As German Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger wrote in his 1999 review of the book for When Saturday Comes magazine: “I could name some other countries who were robbed in 1966.” The emphasis on Brazilian football corruption is entirely valid. Teixeira’s appalling behaviour when the Brazil team arrived at Rio airport after their 1994 World Cup win could fill a book all its own. Yallop devotes appropriate reams to the cartolas (“big hats”), Teixeira and “the small group” who run the domestic game for considerable personal benefit. And he subconsciously heralds future troubles with a reference to “kickbacks from sponsorship deals” with Brazilian marketing company…Traffic. But it is not as if Europeans and others are incapable of such things. When World Cup ticket scandals are mentioned, Trinidad’s repugnant Jack Warner naturally appears. And Blatter is Swiss.

Yallop also strays towards hagiographies of Havelange’s enemies, particularly Pele. This fault, however, applies more to Pele the “political” enemy of Havelange than Pele the mercurial footballer. Indeed, many of the book’s most readable passages are about matches, as Yallop intersperses tales of off-field woe with on-field equivalents at World Cups from 1958 to 1998. He takes an almost unremittingly cynical view of these finals, with a genuine love for the game rarely visible (he incorrectly asserts that Ireland failed to score from open play in 1990, which Kevin Sheedy might dispute). Spain ’82 was the “worst tournament in the history of the competition.” Yallop even finds Brazil’s wonderful 2-1 win over the USSR notable only for the non-award of three penalties.

However recollections of brutal defending and incompetent refereeing (“deliberately” or otherwise) ring true. As does his wholly unremittingly cynical view of the first finals of Havelange’s regime, Argentina ’78. The, ahem, “combative” defender Claudio Gentile is “the Italian psychopath” and “Italy’s current version of the creature from the black lagoon,” one of many players Yallop cites who “much preferred kicking the player to the ball” yet rarely received appropriate sanction from officials. Meanwhile, the fate of Argentina’s World Cup organising committee chairman Carlos Omar Actis is recalled in all its shameful detail.

Yallop doesn’t shy away from any of the off-field brutalities of the era, and especially Havelange’s ugly willingness to accommodate the Brazilian military dictators who ran the nation while he ran its football administration. “They had their job to do, I had mine” is an oft-repeated phrase. Yallop destroys this claim to apoliticism, although Havelange helps by declaring numerous generals and other unsavoury characters as “personal friends,” claims which Yallop hangs alongside details of the repression and torture which constituted so much of “their job,” generously quoting from another of his own books to emphasise the point.

The book exposes Havelange gloriously when Yallop is challenged to “come to Brazil, talk to a driver, go into a restaurant, talk to a major industrialist, a doctor, a lawyer and ask…what these people would say about myself.” Yallop had done just that, and interviewed key Havelange associates from his early years. Thus we get a “more prosaic picture” of Havelange’s life than Havelange’s Olympian, business mogul and all-conquering Sports Federation president. “I won my first World Cup in Sweden in 1958,” he declares with Olympian self-regard. A well-told tale also reveals Havelange’s more prosaic feelings for football.

In 1974, the genuine football-loving US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, otherwise as unseemly a character as Havelange, leapt to his feet after Johan Cruyff scored Holland’s second goal in the 1974 World Cup win over Brazil which sent them into the final. It was perhaps inappropriate behaviour for the VIP section in which Kissinger sat. But it was instructive that Havelange dragged Kissinger back to his seat. Yallop also gained first-hand experience, during his interview, of Havelange’s defects. His rage when he, wrongly, believed Yallop accused him of pocketing Fifa sponsorship money. Or his insistence that “I am never arrogant,” having “in his own humble way described his average 45 hour-day.”

Occasionally, Yallop is harsh on other “enemies.” He castigates UK prime minister Tony Blair for naïvely believing Havelange supported England’s 2006 World Cup bid but believes Blatter’s mendacious insistences that “I will give the 2006 World Cup to Africa.” And history has been harsh on other judgements. When Havelange purged “some of the very best of Fifa” in 1994, among these “very best” was the corrupt Chuck Blazer. Meanwhile, marketing company ISL was “alive and well” and “(benefitting) hugely from its intimate relationship with Havelange and Blatter.” ISL was declared bankrupt in 2001. More accurately, Yallop draws umpteen parallels between his and Havelange’s electoral machinations, and slams “the disgusting excesses of Paris”, at the 1998 congress. “Far from reining in the excesses of Havelange and his entourage,” Yallop gasps, “Blatter appears to have regarded (them) as a challenge.” And Yallop really lets rip in his 1998 epilogue, as if told that it was immune from prosecution. The 1998 World Cup final debacle was still fresh in his mind. And it shows.

The 2011 epilogue brings matters up-to-date, despite being written in September 2011. As Yallop noted even before the prologue, the book “exposed the bribes, the cheating and the corruption,” while the 2011 epilogue covered “the bribes, the cheating and the corruption over the past year.” A 2015 prologue could easily read “see 2011.” The book ends on the exposure of a $1m bribe Havelange received from ISL in 1997, about which “Blatter knew” but “did nothing” (see Foul for considerable details). “Fifa insiders” believe “they have got the old man.” But by September 2011, Yallop is immune to such optimism. “Don’t hold your breath,” he counsels. Wise words to end a largely wise book.

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