Sir David Richards' continued presence at the top table of English football has long been a mystery. The man who "stewarded" Sheffield Wednesday towards relegation from the Premier League a dozen years ago, with the club haemorrhaging money so badly that it has never returned, has brushed off one gaffe after another. This time, however, Teflon Dave may have run out of friends to protect him.
Richards was last heard in public embarrassing himself and the Premier League at the parliamentary select committee inquiry into football governance (at which he could have been labelled "Exhibit A", so thoroughly does he typify the conflict of interests that bedevils the game's governance). Now he has told a distinguished audience at a conference in Doha that Fifa "stole" football from England, adding "another gang came along called Uefa and stole a bit more".
The chairman of the Premier League, much of whose wealth and future development plans lie with expanding its overseas reach, added for good measure that his Qatari hosts were "burying their heads in the sand" when it came to alcohol sales at the 2022 World Cup. This comment may have been related to his apparent dissatisfaction that the hotel he is staying in is "dry".
The Premier League was quick to disassociate itself from its chairman's remarks – he is listed on the conference agenda in that capacity – but the damage is done. It is precisely this kind of "Little Englander" mentality which has led to the country's isolation in the corridors of power and thus the failure of two World Cup bids in 10 years. English football is perceived in many parts of the world as arrogant. It is not an entirely fair charge, but it is not without foundation as Richards' outburst illustrates. With Fifa executive committee members among Richards' audience, the bridges recently built by the FA chairman David Bernstein have broken again.
Ironically Richards was originally in on the 2018 World Cup bid due to his supposed influence with the Fifa executive, but walked away in a fit of pique, destabilising the bid.
Richards has been a career football politician ever since his steel company, Three Star Engineering, went bust in 2001 owing more than £2m, almost half of it to small creditors, and laying off more than 100 staff. As well as being chairman of the Premier League and the FA's international committee he is a member of the FA board, president of the European Professional Football Leagues and chairman of Uefa's professional football committee. He has also been chairman of the Football Foundation. It is a lot of hats to wear but there is ample compensation. His PL salary alone is more than £300,000 a year, and the lifestyle involves a lot of expense-account travelling.
Aged 69, Richards' influence is on the wane but remains significant. In his FA guise he was on the pitch at Wembley last month being introduced to the players of both sides in the pre-match handshaking ceremony. He was also involved in the decision to retain Fabio Capello after the 2010 World Cup, but with the advent of Club England he is not part of the head-hunting panel seeking his replacement. Even so he is on the FA board that must rubber-stamp the choice.
It is that FA board role which explains Richards' survival. Many within the game regarded him as a joke even before the revelation that he followed his speech yesterday by walking into a water feature fully clothed (the Bolton chairman Phil Gartside pulled him out). Yet the joke is not funny, according to former FA chairman Lord Triesman, who told the select committee that Richards "bullied" the FA board. Richards denied this but admitted that in 16 years on the board only four issues had been put to a vote, which suggested that Triesman's claim that the game was governed by deals and threats was accurate.
However, that means of cowing the FA is no longer needed after the 149-year-old body ceded a raft of powers to the Premier League in its response to the select committee last week. Which means the PL may finally let Richards go: the mission is accomplished, he is now just an embarrassment.