KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- If Europe really wants to throw a spanner in Sepp Blatter’s FIFA re-election works the ideal opportunity is at hand. Trouble is, capitalising on the moment might reveal a lack of unity embarrassingly close to home.
Appropriately it is in Doha next Monday and Tuesday that the world federation’s ‘calendar committee’ sits down to sort out precisely when the benighted 2022 World Cup finals should be staged in Qatar.
All the so-called stakeholders will be at hand and, to believe the statements of chairman Sheikh Salman Ebrahim bin Khalifa and FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke it’s a done deal. Both men, loyal to Blatter’s strategy, insist everyone has accepted it will be in winter.
For them, the only issue is which segment: January/February or November/December.
For much of the game this is no big deal. Africa, Asia and the Americas mostly run their leagues spring-to-autumn. Playing the World Cup in their own close seasons for a change is fine and dandy. Trouble is, 75pc of the players lining up at the World Cup – and all the superstars who decorate the output of sponsors and broadcasters – play in Europe.
If the Big Five leagues said ‘No deal’ next week then Blatter, Salman and Valcke’s strategy to dig themselves neatly out of the Qatar hole would be in pieces.
More than that the recriminations over the Russia/Qatar vote would erupt again and offer Prince Ali, Michael Van Praag and Luis Figo a breach in the Zurich wall through which to march their anti-Blatter troops.
They might even – their only chance – persuade some of Blatter’s own loyal constituency into second thoughts about casting the votes in his direction on May 29.
Who dumped this chaos on us? they could ask. The answer will be staring them in the face from centre stage at FIFA Congress: Blatter (advised by Valcke) and a surviving half of the exco which decided, catastrophically, to run two World Cup bids simultaneously.
It’s hardly as if no-one is prepared to stand up and be counted in the ‘No’ camp.
Premier League ceo Richard Scudamore has been adamant that FIFA got itself into another fine mess and should be stuck with it (After all, how can he match the latest 2016-19 TV mega-deal with a subsequent World Cup-gashed contract?).
Milan’s Umberto Gandini is another hawk. Gandini’s problem is that, while he is vice-president of the European Club Association, his chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, is a dove.
Rummenigge has always been far more Qatar-friendly than Gandini. After all, Rummenigge’s Bayern Munich head to Qatar every midwinter break and coach Pep Guardiola was a Qatar FA ambassador in the run-up to the World Cup vote.
Not only that but Rummenigge has talked openly in the past of how the winter World Cup switch could lead Europe into turning its season around and playing spring-to-autumn like the rest of the world.
Germany also, of course, is accustomed to the solid winter break foreign not only to English football but also to Spain (which shuts for only the two weekends of holiday time).
Then there is the Michel Platini conundrum.
UEFA’s president wants Blatter overthrown even though he is not prepared to wield the knife himself, backing Prince Ali or Van Praag or Figo to attempt his dirty work. But Platini voted for Qatar; not influenced, he continues to insist, by a suggestive dinner-table tete-a-tete with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the prime minister of the Gulf state.
In the words of the late Mandy Rice-Davies: He would say that, wouldn’t he?
Platini insists he voted for Qatar because he wanted a hosting coalition of all the Gulf states. In that case, he was insultingly ill-informed about the political, cultural and religious differences between them. Even a modicum of advice would have indicated no chance.
Even without this, Platini says he voted with the secret intention of forcing a winter staging. This, from the man whose Champions League gold mine is built on the matchless worldwide attraction of the leading clubs from western Europe . . . notably England and Spain.
So here is Platini’s dilemma as he watches from behind the scenes: If he wants to embarrass Blatter he need only oppose a mid-winter World Cup and support, say, the April-May proposal which is the grudging concession of Europe’s leagues and clubs.
Or will Platini come to Blatter’s aid by setting himself against the leagues whose clubs finance UEFA’s money machine?
Sheikh Salman and Valcke have indicated they expect next week’s meeting to generate a winter staging recommendation which the FIFA exco can rubber-stamp in mid-March.
Should they (and Blatter) be thwarted then resolving the winter World Cup wrangle will surely be postponed until after the FIFA presidential election, an election which would be held under the dark cloud of a European league and club rebellion.
Unknown territory? Doubtless Prince Ali and Co long to see it.