And so it comes down to David Beckham's pulling power. Sad to say, but it was always going to. Yes, England's World Cup bid was always going to be a shambles and, yes, the shamblers themselves were always going to have to turn to Mr Celebrity to dig them out of a PR hole of their own shovelling.
If any more evidence was needed of how pathetic sport's bidding processes have become, then it will be provided with shameless falsity this week. The only balls which should have counted in Cape Town were the ones being used to decide the groups for next summer's finals. But no, here's Goldenballs and here are all those important hands to be shaken in – utterly coincidental – synchronicity with all those flashbulbs going off. The question is, which will be less stage-managed – the Fifa draw or the English schmoozing?
England's 2018 plotters (by the way, that is the year, not the number of employees in a ridiculously swollen bidding team) will pray Becks is at his charismatic best – that is, he remembers all the names whispered in his ear the second before introduction. They will count on his attire being appropriate, if just a little trendy, and will be relieved to discover he's not had another Mohican. All he has to do is stand still, smile, be famous and English. Madame Tussauds could yet be brought in as choreographer.
In fairness, Beckham knows the drill and will be under no illusions as to why he has been flown first-class to South Africa. He is not at fault. His nation's dream of reprising 1966 is wobbling alarmingly and he is answering the call to prop it up. Yet if Brand Beckham has an off day then that truly could be that. Timber! Anyone for 2026?
How have we reached this point of ridicule? That's easy to explain. It started with the self-importance of the Fifa hierarchy and it has almost finished with the self-importance of the English bidding hierarchy. And in this smorgasbord of ego and politics, the only genuine principle has been forgotten.
Which country is best suited to hosting 2018? That should be a very simple query, and there should be a very simple process in answering it. Ostensibly there is – March 2009: submit bid registration; May 2010: submit bid details; December 2010: Fifa executive hold secret ballot. In practice, it is as simple as pure maths, but alas nowhere near as pure.
This period of the rival bidders wooing the 24-man committee is now so drawn-out it makes the mating ritual of the two-toed sloth seem presumptuous. And all because Fifa has gone kowtow crazy. Hence Gordon Brown taking time out on Friday from duties that are of genuine import to seduce the shameless camp-switcher that is the Fifa vice-president Jack Warner; hence Beckham next Friday; hence a 24-dangling-carrot farce.
The awful truth is that Beckham's absence next week would cause a far bigger hoo-ha with the executive than the infighting in the England bidding team. But then maybe Fifa accept that the petty bickering was inevitable. If it was as straightforward as merely getting together the proper finances, deciding on the most suitable host cities and ticking all the other logistical boxes, it plainly wouldn't be a problem. But by making it essentially an exercise in power – and a downright complex power game at that – the uglier human traits were bound to run amok.
Nowhere were they as bound to run amok as England. With respect to Australia, Russia, Japan and all the other bidding countries, I guess if they could boast the strongest domestic league in world football then they, too, would have heard conflicting voices emerging so loudly above the hymn sheet. Too many generals and all that. When the demarcation lines become blurred, the sense of collective goes AWOL.
Certainly it is hard to think of a more pointed time to resign from the bid board. When the news was announced on Tuesday it was described in differing circles as "potential disastrous" and "potentially good". Although, in all honesty, I didn't know whether to cry, laugh or rush to Wikipedia to find out who Sir Dave Richards was.
All you need to know is that Dave is chairman of the Premier League and from there you can tell where the wrangling is based. Personal and childish points are being scored, whatever the cost. It is fair to suggest the squabbling holds little or no regard for what is beneficial to the English game as a whole. Lord Triesman – the FA chairman, no less – may well be the wrong man to lead the bid, but is making the entirety of that bid a laughing stock the wisest way to force his removal?
This is what happens when the governing body – i.e. the FA – are not necessarily the most powerful and influential body – i.e. the Premier League. Yet it would be interesting to discover what the Premier League clubs would say to their chairman if his resignation was ultimately seen by Fifa as one humiliation too far.
After all, Old Trafford, Villa Park et al would be on a huge earner from the World Cup. For now, they, like everyone else connected to England 2018, will be relying on Becks to be Becks and for the Fifa executive to be the Fifa executive. This is no time to appeal to their intellect and present the most convincing bid; this is the time to appeal to their egos and present the most convincing celebrity. Here is the old boy's chance finally to win something with England. It was meant to be.
Letter of the week
James Corrigan's Last Word (Thierry Henry, 22 November) is no such thing, it is the bankrupt rantings of an apologist for illegal conduct. To claim – as Corrigan does – that "Henry is no more a cheat on this Sunday than he was last Sunday" is ridiculous and untrue. When someone flagrantly handles the ball (not once but twice), he is a cheat... and should be penalised, not rewarded, end of story. Get some spine, Mr Corrigan, and don't be so craven in excusing inexcusable behaviour.
James Derounian, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
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