The Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore's plans for a controversial "international round" looked dead in the water last night after a scathing attack from world football's most powerful man. Fifa president Sepp Blatter also warned that forcing it through could scupper England's bid for the 2018 World Cup finals.
Blatter lambasted the 39th game proposals as "abuse" and "the rich Premier League trying to get richer". In a blunt statement of defiance to the plans that have divided English football, Blatter declared: "This will never happen. At least this will not happen as long as I am the president of Fifa."
For Scudamore it is the worst possible news after eight days of unremitting criticism since the unplanned leaking of the project on 7 February. The embattled chief executive had talked up his chances of persuading Jerome Valcke, Fifa general secretary, of the plan's merits but it was Blatter's endorsement that he had ultimately hoped for. The intensely political Fifa president has kept his counsel over the last week but his opposition, delivered in such terms, has dealt a shattering blow to Scudamore.
Blatter added: "Those that are richer than the others, they have more responsibility and what the Premier League is trying to do is contrary to this responsibility. This does not take into consideration the fans of the clubs and it gives the impression that they just want to go on tour to make some money. This is something I cannot understand and definitely the Fifa executive committee will not sanction such an initiative."
"This is abuse. The rich Premier League is trying to get richer and expand the importance of that league."
There are many among English football's powerbrokers who now cannot understand why Scudamore was prepared to release the details of the "39th game" proposal, due for January 2011, without ensuring he had the support of world football. In the event he has had virtually none. For the last week, he has been a sitting duck with all but a handful of Premier League chairmen, chief executives and the occasional manager offering their support.
But the real hammer blow from Blatter was the warning that the proposal would affect the Football Association's high-profile bid for the 2018 World Cup finals which already has the backing of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It will be enough to make the FA, already lukewarm about the 39th game proposal, run a mile with so much riding on the 2018 bid.
Blatter said: "When it comes to a decision of the executive committee concerning this matter of the 39th round, and I am sure they will be against it, then it will not have a positive impact on the bid from England for the World Cup in 2018."
The irony will not be lost on the FA that Scudamore originally sold the plans on the basis that they would be good for England's 2018 bid. But that has been one of his many misjudgements along the way. He has already faced stiff opposition from Uefa, the Asian football confederation and the Japan football association. Blatter's pronouncement on the proposal's potential effect on the World Cup bid was designed to make the FA fall in line and it is now inconceivable that they could support the project.
With his politician's eye, Blatter said that he backed the majority of English football fans who have already rejected the idea. "I support the fans 100 per cent," he told the BBC. "If I was a fan in England I would say: 'No, please play at home and don't go abroad.' If the plan includes official league matches then, as a fan, I would protest."
Scudamore had hinted that Fifa could be circumnavigated by the Premier League if they had the blessing of the FA. Evidently seeing that as a direct threat to his grip of power on world football, Blatter even invoked the Fifa statute that he believed would prevent them from doing so. "Even if the FA did sanction it, all the national associations receiving these clubs would have to sanction it also," the Swiss said. "This will be very difficult."
What lies ahead is a difficult decision for Scudamore: does he admit defeat or, with the backing of the 20 Premier League clubs, attempt to take on the world governing body. There is no doubting the financial might of the Premier League, but a battle with football's most formidable bureaucrats might even be too much for the clubs to stomach.
The Premier League last night maintained that it expected to meet with Fifa to "discuss this matter in full". However, for the first time they said they would not be commenting until after those meetings – in contrast to Scudamore's attempts over the last few days to try to win over hearts and minds with a series of interviews. Among the options discussed for making the Premier League international round more palatable was to make one of the five host cities a loss-leading goodwill location such as South Africa or India. The plans will be finalised by January next year. However, Scudamore has accumulated so many enemies in the past eight days that he now has to either strike an extraordinary blow for his initiative or give up the fight.
World opinion: 'In Japan we have to protect our league and clubs'
'It will never be received by Fifa, by the fans or the national associations. It's a nonsense. I am sure [Fifa] will never accept it because it's not good for football. In England, you already have no English coach, no English players and maybe now you will have no clubs playing in England.'
Uefa President Michel Platini
'We've been reluctant to have official games played in the US. We'll be guided by Fifa. But if it's not in line with its rules, then we won't sanction it. We understand it's a global sport but it's about nurturing the home game.'
President of the United States Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati
'It sounds problematic. We are, in principle, opposed to having Premier League games in Japan as we have to protect our league and clubs. In Japan, we don't allow anyone to play a match that involves only foreign clubs and no Japanese clubs.'
Japan Football Association vice-president Junji Ogura
'Football Federation Australia's overwhelming priority is to promote the A-League and to continue to invest in, and grow, the game in Australia.'
Football Federation Australia chief executive Ben Buckley
'At the present time I can't see the wisdom in the proposed plans. It is my belief that it is not a good idea to organise domestic leagues in territories other than their own.'
Mohamed bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation
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