There is a recent television clip of Lord Triesman meeting Sepp Blatter in which, mid-sentence, the Fifa president spots someone over the shoulder of the Football Association chairman and marches off leaving Triesman dangling. Who the hell was it? A rival 2018 bidder? A powerful Fifa ally? The canapés waiter?
In that one moment of apparent rudeness was England's task in winning the 2018 World Cup finals encapsulated. Fifa, Blatter in particular, appears to despise English football and the success of the Premier League. English football, in turn, is dubious about Blatter, his ally Jack Warner, about an organisation that wields such enormous unchecked global power. Yet Fifa has something the FA wants and if that means plenty more "snubs" at parties, then the FA's representatives will just have to get used to staring into their sherry glasses.
Blatter is due to make a presentation to Manchester United on Wednesday at Old Trafford, where the 73-year-old will also speak to the English press. If his broadside at English football on BBC Five Live last week was anything to judge by, Wednesday will be full of inaccurate assumptions and difficult to understand. Difficult to understand because, unlike most Fifa polyglots, Blatter's grasp of English is poor, but his understanding of English football is even worse.
Last week, talking about the Premier League itself, Blatter said that it was "the strongest league in the world" but was "taking over in such a manner that the other leagues have difficulties too much [sic] with the Premier League".
This is extraordinary. He cannot mean that English clubs are dominating the Champions League, they have won it only three times since the competition's relaunch in 1992, which is fewer than the Spanish (four) and the same as the Italians. If he means the Premier League is signing the best players, then it has ever been thus that one of Spain, Italy or England has been dominant in the transfer market. But that does not affect the quality or spirit of competition within a league. In Portugal, champions Porto are no more able to compete with English clubs for players than lowly Vitoria Setubal.
Unless anyone can prove a direct causal link between televised Premier League football and a dip in attendances at, say, FC Volendam, it is hard to see how the English can be held responsible for upsetting the equilibrium of, for example, the Netherlands. Of course, we did send them Steve McClaren – which could be construed as a hostile gesture – but he is doing very nicely at FC Twente.
"And then there's another factor," said Blatter on Five Live, in the manner of a man who had just turned over his briefing sheet and discovered, to his surprise, more bullet points. "When two-thirds or three-quarters of the participants in the league play not to be first, they play not to be relegated and there [sic] is something wrong."
What exactly is wrong with that? What is not to like about a league which has just nine points separating the 12 teams from eighth place to 19th? It suggests equality and a healthy sense of competition. In the three major European leagues which have 20 clubs, the tables demonstrate far less equality. From eighth to 19th in Spain the gap, before this weekend's action, was 18 points – twice that of the Premier League. And the story was similar in Italy (16) and France (13).
But Blatter was off again, rushing through the rest of his Reasons To Blame English Football, which sounded suspiciously like it had been scribbled on the back of a fag packet in the departures lounge at Zurich airport. "They do it for financial reasons, for economic reasons," he said darkly. "Not only the best, they want to be the richest and first of all it is a question of money."
Yep, this really was a lecture on financial propriety by a man whose organisation lost £45m worth of television rights money when its marketing partner, ISL, collapsed with debts of three times that (a friend of Blatter's, ISL director Jean-Marie Weber, was convicted of embezzlement last year). A lecture from an organisation that built a new £120m headquarters in comparison to the £5m it has spent on 20 football centres in Africa.
After that, Blatter launched into a rambling exposition on clubs adopting quotas for fielding home-grown players, ending with the baffling "then if this is then the wish and the will of everybody in football then we will have the system with American sport, sooner or later we will have that and then where we are [sic]."
Where we are is that English football is facing up to an uncomfortable truth. Fifa might give England its tournament in 2018 but it seems like, in return, the English will have to accede to whatever demands Fifa makes upon the domestic game. There are things wrong with English football – it has its share of greedy, unscrupulous individuals – but that does not mean English football needs to bow to the greedy, unscrupulous individuals at Fifa to deal with it.
The FA has already had to debase itself with one visit to Trinidad to doff hats in the court of Warner, an influential Fifa executive committee member, who – among many corruption allegations – has a son who was fined for World Cup ticket-touting. There will be more bowing and scraping with Blatter this week. The trouble with persuading Fifa to give you a World Cup is that not only do you have to chauffeur them to the stadium, pour their drinks and pick up the bill for dinner – you have to listen to them too.
Funny man tells it straight to Lampard
Well done to the England players who subjected themselves to James Corden's piss-taking for Comic Relief this weekend. It was previewed on Jonathan Ross's show on Friday, the premise being that the players were lectured by Corden – Smithy in Gavin and Stacey – without knowing what would he would say.
Highlights from Corden included one quite telling point he made to the goalkeeper David James. "David, you're England's No 1, you're the best you've ever been. You know why? You've stopped dicking around with your hair."
And to Peter Crouch. "Crouchy, when I look at you everything tells me that you should be rubbish at football." He advised the Portsmouth striker to go back to his robot goal celebration. "You've started to fear the robot, you've got to make the robot fear you."
Word reaches me that Frank Lampard's pep talk from Corden is even nearer the knuckle.
'Red Riding' captures feel of Peace offering
The Damned United film is not a faithful re-enactment of David Peace's excellent novel about Brian Clough. For authenticity take a look at the brilliant Red Riding trilogy on Channel 4, the dramatisation of Peace's original crime novels. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, boozy, dark, rainy – it evokes the 1974 Leeds of The Damned Utd novel superbly.
United they stand, huddled together in fear
The pre-match huddle. It really is just a load of American sports-inspired nonsense. Newcastle did it at St James' Park on Wednesday and to me it did not say strength or togetherness – it said fear. The Manchester United players watched bemused. They don't need public displays of unity; you can tell they are from the way they play.Reuse content