Football: In search of a place in the world

Wiseman was desperate to join global decision-makers. By Norman Fox
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The Independent Online
THOSE mainly well-wrinkled decision-makers of the Football Association have always liked to believe that the demise of English football's seniority in the administration of the world game, which Keith Wiseman took such a fateful risk to redress, could be blamed on one man, Joao Havelange, who took over the Fifa presidency from Sir Stanley Rous in 1974 and sidelined England. The reality, though, is much more a matter of self-inflicted isolation from power.

For more than 20 years, culminating in the appointment of the Hampshire coroner as the Football Association's chairman, there has not been an English football administrator to match the domineering Rous. That was why Sepp Blatter recently succeeded Havelange without competition or much- needed challenge from the country which did more than any other to popularise and regulate the game. Indeed, the FA supported Blatter at the humiliating expense of Sweden's English football devotee, Lennart Johansson, who had earlier felt sure he had the FA's support.

English influence on football's future collapsed after Rous gave way to Havelange, the dour Brazilian lawyer who realised that the future of the sport internationally was to be about television and sponsorship money.

Before Havelange, the Fifa presidency had always been held by Europeans. Rous was the last great statesman of English football, but at the age of 79 he failed or refused to accept that the world at large was not the rump of the old Empire and would inevitably demand more representation in the game's administration and want improved chances of World Cup places.

Havelange promised all of that, won support and, more to the point, votes. There is nothing new about football officials promising much for a few votes. At least Wiseman and the totally honest Graham Kelly were not up to handing round little sealed brown envelopes.

While Scottish and Irish officials continued to have influence internationally, the English ones put up by the FA post-Rous for Fifa places also failed to recognise the winds of change or have the courage and statesmanship to regain influence over the Havelange- dominated international body. Neither has their influence over Uefa been forceful, although David Dein, of Arsenal, is gaining strength there.

When Wiseman took over the chairmanship of the FA from Sir Bert Millichip, whose work with Uefa was not all bad, he said that he wanted England to "impose ourselves on the leading footballing nations of the world", and he was not talking about 11 men kicking a ball. A vice-presidency of Fifa was his ultimate aim.

The problem was that he had been elected by men who had resisted every attempt to persuade them that the only way the FA could have a candidate for seriously high international office was to appoint a high- profile chief. Whatever opinion he had of his own capabilities outside of being Mr Big of Lancaster Gate, Wiseman was not that person. He followed a predictable line of succession, including the academic Professor Sir Harold Thompson, Sir Andrew Stephen and the often bumbling Sir Bert, who two years ago omitted to tell the FA that he was giving up his position on the Uefa executive so that no one else from England was nominated. Now he is complaining about the FA's present lack of direction.

One of football's most distinguished and experienced administrators, Peter Robinson, the Liverpool executive vice-chairman, says that the lack of stringent English voices since the days of Rous is not so much the fault of inadequate personnel but the inability of the FA to campaign with real purpose. He speaks from a position of strength since his background work did much to place Liverpool among Europe's most successful and best organised clubs. He said: "England should always have someone on the executive committee of Uefa because we are one of the major countries. Unlike other countries, we have not pushed hard enough. I think we have had suitable candidates, but some pretty good people have not been put forward."

Robinson says that the other major European footballing countries, not least Germany and Italy, have always made sure that they were properly represented on the Uefa executive committee, which is the all-powerful one. "We lose a very powerful voice by not being there," he said. As for England's inability to influence Fifa, he is not of the view that the residue of the Havelange-Rous disagreements over the future of the game continue to make it difficult for England to have strong input there.

He said: "I think Fifa would always want the major footballing countries to be represented, but, again, we haven't been forceful enough in seeking that representation. That is something we should aim for in the future, and with changes in the Football Association, I would hope they recognise this and, together with the Premier League, always make sure that a right and proper candidate is submitted." Blatter will not be losing much sleep waiting for that to happen.

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