LONDON: Lord Sebastian Coe clearly feared for England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup from his very first involvement with the campaign which ended in embarrassment and humiliation writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Coe deals with his role as a non-executive director of the bid – which was ultimately won by Russia – in his autobiography, Running My Life, excerpts of which are being serialised in The Times.
Coe regrets that several members of the FIFA executive committee led when they promised to vote for England during campaign meetings before D-Day in Zurich at the start of December 2010. He says that David Dein, international president of the England bid, estimated England had six certain votes but, in the end, only two were recored – and one of those came from England’s own Geoff Thompson.
Coe joined the bid when a British track record was developing after the securing of the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
But he was shocked, at his first bid board meeting, by his initial insight into the antagonistically fragmented state of the English game.
After the meeting, in February 2009, Coe told Keith Mills – chief executive of the London 2012 campaign: “It’s got the smell of death about it.”
He writes: “I had been truly shocked by the vituperative nature of the meeting I had just witnessed. There was thinly disguised contempt around the table . . . In the immediate aftermath of the failure of the England bid, the finger was pointed at the British media. I am less willing to lay the blame at their door.
“Ultimately, the fault, I believe, lies with the awful dysfunctionality of the English game, its personalities and its politics.
“First, you have the FA, which is the regulatory body. Then you have the Premier League, effectively the creation of Sky TV and Murdoch money, and we’re talking billions here.
“Then you have the big clubs and the moguls, including Abramovich at Chelsea and the Glazers at Manchester United, not forgetting the big-beast managers, such as Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger. This has always been a very uncomfortable set of relationships, at best strained.
“The fact that they didn’t trust each other and didn’t much like each other, was a problem.”
Lack of trust
Coe says said the bid was hampered by a strong sense of resentment abroad – at a perception that the English game remained arrogant – and by mistrust at home.
He adds: “The FA distrusted the Premiership. The Premiership distrusted the FA, and Brian Mawhinney, as chairman of the Football League, wasn’t comfortable with any of them. I sometimes suspected that their only common ground was a mistrust of David Triesman, then the FA chairman.”
Coe thought that FIFA president Sepp Blatter – for all his appreciation of English football’s traditions – favoured the new horizon of Russia as the next step forward for the World Cup.
Coe says: “What he has always had a problem with is the English game. And, from his perspective, it’s not hard to understand.
“As president of an international federation, he sees the unwillingness of English clubs to release players for international duty. He sees the purchasing power of the English game — big-name clubs buying up players from all over the world.
“And he sees a national federation that, at the time of the bid, had no chairman or chief executive. And then he sees our press, permanently focusing on his organisation. Blatter once said to me: ‘Your game is run by idiots. It’s not run by bright people.’