The congestion on the North Circular can make you wonder whether attending friendlies at Wembley is worth the hassle. But if you happen to be Brazilian, getting to see your national team play a friendly is a lot more frustrating than sitting in traffic by the Neasden branch of Ikea.
On Saturday, Brazil's friendly against England is taking place 7,000 miles from Rio de Janeiro in Doha, Qatar. But that is nothing new. Since Brazil played England in the first game at the new Wembley in June 2007, they have played 11 friendlies and only one of them has been in Brazil. If you want to watch Brazil friendlies, the advice is simple: don't live in Brazil.
Dortmund, Montpellier, Chicago, Boston, Dublin, London, Seattle and Tallinn have all played host to Brazil in the last two years, some cities more than once. The promoters, the Kentaro Group, call it the "Brazil World Tour", and they are not joking. The most famous football team in the world have become an exhibition team, shoved on a plane and taken to whoever will pay the money.
It has long been argued that playing friendlies in Europe is more suitable for Brazil's European-based majority of players. But if that is the case then how do you justify two trips to Boston (3,270 miles from London), one to Chicago (4,520 miles from Milan) and one to play Canada in Seattle (5,400 miles from Barcelona)? The answer is: if you pay then Brazil will play, regardless of the air miles their players rack up.
For Saturday's game, the Brazil football federation (CBF) and the big media conglomerate that owns the "rights" to their friendlies had the first choice on the venue in return for Brazil playing at Wembley in 2007. They could have chosen Rio, Sao Paulo or Europe but – with all but one of the players in both squads based at European clubs – they selected a city that is seven hours on a plane from London.
It is a pretty sorry state of affairs for Brazil fans. For certain European club managers it means, as part of the CBF's deal, their expensive Brazilian stars are flown around the world in the middle of a busy season. As for Fifa, it does not care at all. So long as the friendlies take place within the international calendar it waves them through. Many of Brazil's friendlies do not even serve the purpose of giving them serious preparation for major tournaments. After the England game Brazil are staying in Doha for another friendly against that powerhouse of international football, Oman – ranked 79th in the world, one place below Wales. In 2005, with the World Cup finals the next year, Brazil played Hong Kong in Hong Kong, Guatemala in Sao Paulo, FC Seville in Seville and the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi.
The principles of international football are abandoned to the extent that even when Brazil face opponents who have perfectly decent stadiums, the game is staged elsewhere. For example, instead of playing Turkey in Turkey, Brazil played them in Dortmund, presumably to exploit the lucrative Turkish immigrant population there. Ditto games against Mexico in Boston and Algeria in Montpellier. Heaven only knows why last year Brazil played Canada in Seattle, about 140 miles the wrong side of the US-Canadian border.
When Richard Scudamore floated his controversial idea for a 39th Premier League fixture abroad he was cut down by Fifa. However you feel about that proposal it was devised in order to give all 20 league clubs an equal stake in the popularity of the competition around the world instead of just the big clubs cashing in with pre-season tours. Sepp Blatter, head of Fifa, called it an "abuse of football".
How does Blatter square that with a national team which has been turned into a money-making franchise that ignores the sanctity of international football? One that does not stage its games according to national borders and plays matches against club sides. How long before someone suggests that Brazil play World Cup qualifiers outside of Brazil? For a rapacious market hungry for the next big thing, it is the logical step.
There is little political advantage in Blatter telling Brazilian football what to do. Ricardo Texeira, the CBF president, who was once married to the daughter of Joao Havelange, Blatter's predecessor, is in his 20th year as president. He is on Fifa's executive committee and is the kind of football powerbroker to whom even Blatter must listen. The Brazil "World Tour" is promoted by Kentaro on behalf of International Sports Events (ISE) who "own" the rights to Brazil's friendly matches. So much for all that Uefa and Fifa-driven criticism of English clubs who sell out to foreign owners: in Brazil, they have sold off the national team. In turn, ISE is owned by the Saudi Arabian multi-billion dollar conglomerate Dallah Albaraka Group.
That is the long story of how the most iconic football team in the world came to be owned by a Saudi Arabian business and hawked all around the world. The simple fact is that on Saturday England play Brazil in a distant country – with little football heritage – that costs a lot of money for fans of either nation to visit. They are doing so for reasons that have nothing to do with football and everything to do with money.
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So when Sir Bobby says that he expects Wayne Rooney – 25 goals in 56 caps – to break the record, Rooney should pause to think. Forty-nine goals might not sound a lot in a lifetime but with every famous England striker that falls short, Charlton's phenomenal achievement takes on an even greater lustre.
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New chief executive Ron Gourlay's plan to sell the naming rights to Stamford Bridge is a hard one to stomach for any fan. But with all the money that has been pumped in since 2003 to win two Premier League titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups they have been living beyond their means. Something has got to give.
Hill-Wood deserves credit
"Dead money". That was how Peter Hill-Wood described David Dein's initial £292,000 investment in Arsenal in 1983. With the club now valued at £530m I still feel sorry for Hill-Wood who sold out too early but has nonetheless served Arsenal with love and loyalty.Reuse content