The Last Word: Forget Wayne, United fans must resume Glazers fight
Rooney saga ends with all parties satisfied so now is the time for Old Trafford regulars to learn from Liverpool and prove fan power really works
Sunday 24 October 2010
A little give and take and another industrial dispute is resolved. Awarding a pay rise of something between 66 and 100 per cent may not be quite the way forward for the Post Office, the Fire Service or Transport for London, but it proved acceptable after all to Wayne Rooney once he had been assured that similar sums to the £50 million he stands to "earn" over the next five years will also be available for strengthening Manchester United's squad to a standard he considers fit to keep him company.
Despite having appeared to be an unlikely outcome earlier in the week, it was logical in the sense of being the only one that would satisfy all parties. Rooney wanted more money and new signings; Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to keep him and, while unhappy at having his authority challenged so publicly, can hardly be dissatisfied with the prospect of being encouraged to buy new players.
The chief executive, David Gill, has long maintained that the money is available to do that and the owners, whether or not they are keen to stump up, cannot now be charged with losing the club's outstanding performer. Team-mates were never as critical of Rooney as had been suggested in some quarters and will be as pleased to see him back in the dressing room as they will by the precedent set for their own pay talks when the time comes.
Anyone else? Oh yes, the supporters. Last and normally least to be considered. Some are disenchanted, though not as much as if Rooney had pulled on a sky-blue shirt in January on the other side of town, and it will not take many goals to win them over. The fans' fight has always been with the owners, not the players, and it can now be resumed. One understated aspect of Liverpool's change of ownership was the part played by supporters, principally under the banner (literal and metaphorical) of the Spirit of Shankly organisation. In acting as a rallying point for more acceptable protest than turning up at a player's mansion with balaclavas on, SOS have shown the influence fans can bring, whether or not they are prepared to make the sacrifice of withholding money that the club need.
At the other end of the East Lancs Road, the Manchester United Supporters Trust (Must) can shake off the unwanted distraction of the Rooney affair and concentrate again on their stated aim of "a future where supporters have a meaningful stake in the club". It is a big step, though one now backed by almost 165,000 members, and worthy of the trust movement as a whole, the rise of which is one of the most heartening stories of football's greed-is-good era. Impotent chants of "sack the board" (who would do the sacking?) have long since been overtaken by a willingness to organise and campaign for greater democracy, to the extent that there are 15 clubs (including two from rugby league) owned or controlled by supporters' trusts, 60 with one or more fans on the board and more than 100 with supporters' shareholdings.
FC United, started by disaffected United fans in the wake of the Glazer takeover, qualify on all three counts and if the current season ended today, the breakaway club AFC Wimbledon would be promoted to the Football League. Only last week the House of Commons, despite having rathermore pressing business in hand, heard the Prime Minister commend the efforts of Ilkeston Town supporters to revive their club, who were wound up last month, by taking them into co-operative ownership.
Must, supported by the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, grew out of Shareholders United, the group formed to keep Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB from buying United in 1998. Their green-and-gold campaign was an imaginative initiative which as well as benefiting local scarf manufacturers, provides a constant, colourful reminder of the campaign every matchday.
As well as demanding a stake in the club, Must list among their ideals that United must have "top players". Now that one of them has been persuadedto stay, at significant cost to the Glazers, supporters can unite again without division and distraction; the long march resumes with a demonstration before Saturday's home game against Tottenham.
To stop corruption, give 207 Fifa members a vote
Anyone who has ever done time on a committee would almost certainly suggest that having 24 members is about 20 too many. In the case of Fifa's executive committee, for instance, which represents the six different confederations from around the globe, it is hardly necessary for there to be eight European members, twice as many as any other area. Yet when it comes to this committee's most important function, deciding who will host each World Cup, the problem is exactly the opposite: there are too few people involved.
That has the effect of exposing them to possible corruption of the type that afflicted England's rotten boroughs prior to 1832 and is why Fifa need their own Reform Act. In any election with only 24 voters, each one wields far too much power and becomes susceptible to all sorts of blandishments. These can be subtle – we will play a friendly match in your country, with all the attendant opportunities for gate receipts, television rights and simple prestige – or rather less so: how much for your vote?
Then there is the question of self-interest. Of the countries bidding to stage the 2018 tournament, England, Russia, Spain and Belgium all have an Exco member, as do Qatar, Japan, South Korea and the USA of the 2022 contenders. So not only are those votes effectively spoken for already, but what is to stop – this is a purely hypothetical case offering no grounds whatever for a libel suit – Spain and Qatar, say, to choose two countries entirely at random, offering some mutual back-scratching in the two elections? There is a very straightforward way in which all this can be addressed, however, namely that each of Fifa's 207 members is allowed a vote.
Whatever the system used (first past the post, alternative vote, or others), the first to 104 would win. Not even the most indefatigable bid team would be able to visit the other 200-plus countries and even if they did there would not be enough "incentives" on offer to sway sufficient votes.
In the meantime, Fifa's decision to suspend two Exco members, from Tahiti and Nigeria, is the correct one, although if they fail in their appeal next month, then the voting constituency becomes even smaller at 22.
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