Lord Triesman could be forgiven for wondering why he is bothering. England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup, a bid which was widely reported as being theirs to lose, stands at the point of collapse after what is starting to look like a systematic attack on the credibility of Triesman and the Football Association. It is starting to feel as if the battle lines are being drawn for some sort of Battle Royale for ultimate control of the English game, and that the emotive subject of hosting the World Cup finals is being used as the opening gambit in the battle.
The demolition job has been thorough to say the least, and the hysteria surround it has masked the fact that Triesman has done little wrong so far with the World Cup bid that couldn’t have been resolved had the Premier League decided not to pursue their own agenda. Take, for example, the issue of the £135,000 debt owed to the FA by the Jamaican Football Federation for a friendly in 2006. Dave Richards of the Premier League added the issue of what Triesman was going to do about this dispute to a meeting of the Premier League, turning, as it were, a drama into a crisis. The incident debt was incurred six months before Triesman was even in his position, but media stories soon rounded on this “crisis” as being his fault in some way.
Another good example was the non-story about the Mulberry handbags being given out as gifts by the FA. This was also blown up into a crisis by some corners of the media because of the reaction of Jack Warner of CONCACAF, who described the bag given to his wife as “a symbol of derision, betrayal and embarrassment for me and my family”. Never mind that many would raise their eyebrows at the very concept of being lectured on morals and ethics by Warner, a man whose reputation in such matters precedes him, but it is also worth remembering that these gifts in no way broke any FIFA rules. It was still, somehow, turned into an attack on Triesman in some quarters of the press.
Why, though, would the Premier League be interested in firing a torpedo in the general direction of the Football Association? Well, the truth of the matter is that the Premier League doesn’t really give a damn about the bid for the World Cup finals. If they did, it would be pretty easy for them to bury their many hatchets and pull together with the FA to get the bid going. The World Cup finals, however, are only of marginal interest to the Premier League in that they will be more than happy to make a shilling or to from it should it come to England.
This, however, pales in comparison with the vested interest in them shooting Triesman down. When he first took over at the FA, Triesman was outspoken in his criticism of the ludicrous Game 39 proposals and was no more sparing in his criticism of what he described as the “prune juice economics” of the Premier League. Triesman is a Labour Party man and is intinctively redistributive. The Premier League was formed, of course, for the exact opposite of the purposes of being redistributive. It was formed to syphon off all of the television money – money which, as part of the Football League, clubs had to share with smaller clubs – for itself. Triesman dented a few Premier League egos, and the Premier League is used to getting its own way.
The resignation of Dave Richards of the Premier League from the World Cup bidding team this week, it if was done for this reason, was carried out with perfect timing to maximise the embarrassment both to Triesman and the FA. Notwithstanding the question of whether Richards should be anything to do with the running of English football considering what he did to Sheffield Wednesday during his time as the chairman of the club during the 1990s, this whole “crisis” is a storm in a teacup that is blowing out of control. What the overwhelming majority of us know for certain, however, is that we don’t know exactly what the situation is with England’s 2018 World Cup bid. What we can take an educated guess at is that the Premier League is using the World Cup bid to try to thoroughly discredit Lord Triesman.
Whether this is part of a wider strategy to seize control of English football, it’s too early to say. What we can say for certain is that it would certainly be in the Premier League’s interests to complete a coup d’etat. England matches and international tournaments still bring amongst the biggest mass audiences and the attendant advertising revenues would suit the Premier League clubs just fine, rather than being spent on the grassroots game, youth football, training facilities and, well, any sort of football that isn’t the Premier League.
Ultimately, the 2018 World Cup bid is the best chance that England will have to host the tournament. After two successive tournaments in the southern hemisphere, it seems likely that there will be a return to Europe in this year and the other European bids aren’t without problems of their own. However, every attempt to try and put a positive spin on any stories in the media seems to be thwarted by the media and infighting (or perceived infighting). Whether they can actually manage to change this perception both at home and abroad is an altogether matter. Spain or Russia are very nice in the summer, though, apparently.