Johansson blames FA in defeat

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The Independent Online
LENNART JOHANSSON, the most powerful man in European football, last night delivered a savage attack on the Football Association after he suffered a crushing defeat in the election for the presidency of Fifa, the world game's governing body.

Johansson, who appeared to be a certain winner a month ago, lost to Sepp Blatter, the Swiss general secretary of Fifa, in a tense election in a conference hall here.

The result is a boost for the FA's attempt to host the 2006 World Cup but it has come at the potentially heavy cost of alienating Johansson. The Swede remains president of Uefa, the European governing body, and a member of the 24-member Fifa executive which will decide the venue for 2006.

Johansson, who is firmly behind the German campaign, lost by 111 votes to 80, a much larger verdict than had been expected. He felt the FA's decision, on Friday, to back Blatter publicly had been influential and specifically picked them out in a bitter post-election address.

"I am very surprised at the scale of the defeat," he said. "I expected to get 100 votes. I didn't guess at them, I had been told I would get them. It is difficult for me to understand why the FA of England were behind me a fortnight ago and now they are not. You can speculate why."

Before the election, Johansson had alluded to envelopes of money being passed around but it is not thought he was suggesting England had been bribed financially - one of the world's richest football associations, England have no need of a bung. The FA is, however, in need of influence and Blatter's election is seen as favourable to 2006. He has publicly backed South Africa's candidacy but if they fail to produce a viable bid, which seems increasingly likely, he is expected to prefer England to Germany.

"We feel he will ensure an open and fair process and see the best bid succeeds," said Jo Given of the 2006 campaign. Of the FA's change of mind she said: "We have said nothing in the last fortnight to suggest we would back him. About the time Blatter announced he was standing [April], Johansson, who we had expected to be neutral about 2006 if elected, said he would support Germany's bid. In the light of a second candidate, and Johansson's decision, we said we would review our position. On Friday we decided that, while we did not doubt Johansson's ability to lead Europe, we felt Blatter was the best person for the whole world of football. He is dynamic and charismatic."

Not everybody would describe Blatter, a 62-year-old career administrator with a background in ice hockey and watch-making, as dynamic but he does have charisma, as he showed in making the World Cup draw last December.

Yesterday, after an attempt to make the ballot open was denied, his victory was never in doubt. Although he failed to secure the two-thirds majority required on the first ballot, Johansson, shocked by his crumbling vote, capitulated before a second was taken.

Afterwards it was pure theatre. Blatter was given a massive spray of flowers and his mentor, the 82-year-old outgoing president Joao Havelange, was made an honorary life president. The Brazilian, in power for 24 years, wiped a tear from his eye and then, having seen the succession secured, paid a glowing tribute to Johansson as "a leader and a friend". Since the pair have been in acrimonious dispute for four years, this brought peals of mirth from the watching media.

Johansson initially kept his cool, but then he was faced with the ordeal of a press conference. Suddenly he looked every one of his 68 years. He had spent more than three years and an estimated pounds 500,000 on his campaign and it had ended in humiliation.

Asked if he would stand again he replied: "No, I am too old. Never again." As his composure went he attacked the FA, adding: "I was the one who, almost alone, had sympathy for them after Heysel. I was the one who proposed they should host Euro 96. I had excellent relations with Sir Bert Millichip [the former FA chairman]. I am surprised."

Then Blatter appeared and Johansson was asked to wait and shake hands for the photographers. Graciously he agreed but, as Blatter's entrance became triumphal, he muttered into the microphone, "Mr Sepp Blatter, I'm hungry."

Then, the pictures taken, this bear of a man left the stage and Blatter, half a foot shorter but far more dapper, took the limelight. The showman's instinct took over as he reached out for the World Cup trophy itself, which had been sitting nearby, and put it next to him. The first winner - and whatever happens in the next five weeks, few victories will be as complete or as far-reaching - was his.