The Football Association is looking to appoint a world-famous former player to front England's bid for the 2018 World Cup which was announced yesterday. The name that has already been suggested in FA circles is Gary Lineker, although his involvement in the failed attempt to land the 2006 tournament may be a cause for concern.
However, the FA will certainly be encouraged by the Government to copy the successful model used by the London 2012 Olympic-bid team as it attempts to win the right to stage the World Cup for the first time in 52 years.
That would mean taking much of the control for the bid away from the FA with the establishment of an independent company, limited by guarantee, headed by a figure such as Lineker or possibly Sir Trevor Brooking just as the Olympic team was fronted by Lord Coe. It would also involve the private sector and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, while figures like David Beckham and Sir Bobby Charlton may be involved in ambassadorial roles. There may also be an attempt to involve several members of the Olympic bid team such as Mike Lee, who was the communications director. Crucially, Lee also used to work for Uefa.
Brooking is currently the FA's head of youth development and may be regarded as a more skilled political operator than Lineker even if his world-wide profile is not quite as high.
It appears that much of the impetus for the FA's bid is indeed coming from the Government and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who regards the World Cup as a possible legacy to his time in office. He appointed Richard Caborn as the World Cup ambassador and the former sports minister has been a driving force in discussions with the FA.
The politicians met Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, last Wednesday and received strong encouragement that a bid from England would be welcomed. Blatter held talks with Brown at 10 Downing Street, and was told the Government would help back projects in Africa, while that evening he, along with Caborn, attended the 150th anniversary of the world's oldest football club, Sheffield FC. Caborn is likely to be a key figure as he will need to help pull the various bodies together. The Government is determined the "politics and structure" are not "messed up" this time round, according to one source.
Blatter also confirmed then that the world governing body would end rotation between continents to host the tournament and that decision was duly announced on Tuesday. Fifa abandoned the policy after the embarrassment of Brazil being awarded the 2014 World Cup without facing a rival bid.
By contrast the contest for the 2018 event is likely to be fierce. England could face eight other bids with the strongest coming from Australia, the United States, Russia and China. The final two may be the most feared especially as China host next year's Olympics. If the Games are a resounding success they will have the momentum to host a World Cup.
Russia poses another problem as one of the first tasks facing England will be to get to the head of the European countries and, in effect, become the continent's preferred bid – something they fatally failed to do last time round. Interest has also been shown by Spain and the Benelux countries – Belgium and the Netherlands – but Russia is already regarded as England's main rival in trying to secure the Uefa vote.
A serious mistake that was made in the last bid, for 2006, was not to compete early enough with Germany to try and get the eight votes from Uefa and although the tournament is 11 years away the lobbying will start now. It is a powerful block and accounts for a third of the overall constituency which makes the decision.
Memories of that failed bid have made the FA nervous about launching this time and, even earlier this week, it was sounding a cautious note. However, after a board meeting at Soho Square, it has now pushed ahead with yesterday's announcement with FA chairman, Geoff Thompson, saying it had been taken after the "positive comments made by Fifa president, Sepp Blatter". He added: "I'm delighted the FA board have been so positive in their support for a bid. It would be tremendous for English football and the whole country if we are successful."
One board member said the attitude among most fellow directors was that the FA "should go for it – and go for it now" rather than go down the road of commissioning another feasibility study. Manchester United's chief executive, David Gill, and Premier League chairman, Sir Dave Richards, were particularly bullish.
Bids need to be officially submitted by 2009, with Fifa's executive committee due to make a decision on the host nation in October 2011. It is highly unlikely that the FA will go ahead if it is unsure it has the support of Uefa.
The FA's chief executive, Brian Barwick, said: "This is a great moment. The excitement and expectation from the public to a prospective bid has been incredible. It is clear that the English football public want to see the World Cup back in this country."
The failure to host the 2006 tournament was also a costly humiliation – with £11m wasted on the bid – and with the concern over the rising expense of the 2012 Olympics the FA will not want to take any risks. The cost of a bid this time round is estimated at around £12m even if, ultimately, the World Cup itself is far cheaper to host than an Olympic Games.
England already have seven stadiums that currently meet Fifa's minimum requirement, Wembley, the Emirates Stadium, Old Trafford, the City of Manchester Stadium, Villa Park, St James' Park and the Stadium of Light. A number of new ones are planned, including Liverpool's at Stanley Park and West Ham's close to Upton Park, which should ensure England have the 10 grounds required by 2018 although they will also have to be aware of the need for a geographical spread.
Key points: England's bid
Would begin as one of the favourites to win event.
A decision is expected by Fifa's executive committee in 2011. Bids will need to be officially submitted by 2009.
Can hope for strong backing among the eight European members of Fifa's committee.
May be problems of over-concentration in London, the north west and the north east.
Gordon Brown is keen. Needs support for any improvements to transport and cost of security.
England's failed 2006 bid a lesson in sleepwalking to defeat
England's failed bid to stage the 2006 World Cup, which was launched in 1996 and ended up costing £10.77m, was flawed from the start because England, along with the rest of Europe, had previously agreed to support the German bid.
Specifically, it was widely acknowledged within European football circles that Bert Millichip, chairman of the Football Association, agreed to support a Germany 2006 bid because the Germans had backed England's successful bid to stage Euro 96. It was later suggested that Millichip was asleep during the relevant meeting that sealed this "gentleman's agreement", although the man himself, who died in 2002, never went public with his explanation.
Thus England's bid went ahead, fronted by Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst, who were paid an estimated £400,000 between them. Other costs included staff (£1.66m), travel (£1m), official documents (£880,000) and a five-day tour of England for Fifa's bid inspectors (£280,000). The tour included a night of private crooning by Chris de Burgh at Claridge's.
England's bid earned controversy over its unsubtle – but legal – attempts to win the crucial votes of the 24-man Fifa executive. Saudi Arabia (with a vote) got an England friendly. Manchester United withdrew from the FA Cup to contest a Fifa trophy in Brazil (home of Fifa's then president). Thailand (with a vote) got an FA-funded national team coach, Peter Withe. Various African and Caribbean nations (with votes) got other FA support.
England got five votes from 24 before being eliminated, and then Germany (backed by all of Europe) effectively nicked it on penalties after a New Zealand delegate's late abstention.
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