Saturday 22 October 2016

Ronnie Whelan: FIFA story casts huge shadow over football


WHEN I was a kid, I wanted to be the player who walked up the steps at Wembley to get the Cup, like Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta did a few days ago.

Today's young generation will probably think a career in FIFA is the way to go.

Forget the hours of hard graft and training to make yourself as good as you can be. Why bother with the blood, the sweat, the muck?

These lads have nice suits and very rarely get their legs or hands dirty but they seem to have access to enormous amounts of money and not in a good way.

I was still trying to digest everything we've seen for the last week and the fact that Sepp Blatter is still running the organisation which runs my game, the game I love and share with billions of others, when Arsenal and Aston Villa squared off in what is still the most romantic Cup competition going.

It still has it, I don't care what anyone says and as an antidote to the stuff I was reading all week, it was just the ticket.

I know Arsenal blew Villa away and that it wasn't much of a contest but I was happy for Arsene Wenger. He had a hard time of it before Christmas when many doubted him.

It was also a chastening thought that Liverpool had a chance to get to the final and were very well beaten by Villa.

When Arsenal stepped up to the level many of their players are capable of, they were just too good for a team that made Liverpool look poor.

It was a depressing thought and brought me quickly back to reality after the presentation ceremony. Worse followed. FIFA was the top story on the news again. Blatter had won again.

I've been in the middle of FIFA and UEFA at many of the big events and smaller ones. I've seen how lavish everything is. No money is spared.

I've always known that the game was corrupt and none of this is a surprise. Not so long ago, we had various 'bung' scandals in England. Match-fixing in Italy destroyed Serie A and we've heard about global gambling rings bribing players and match officials.

Since my time, a whole new layer of people seems to have been grafted onto football at every level.

Where before, two managers or two chairmen might do business over a player, now there are lawyers, agents, directors and all sorts of third parties in the mix. They all want their cut.

Because of big business's keen interest in being associated with the biggest sport in the world, here is so much money washing around now that it would actually be a surprise if the football was clean.

What cheered me up a great deal watching the coverage of this story develop is the fact that the FBI are in the middle of it.

Quite honestly, I don't care if they are doing it because the USA has sour grapes over not being awarded the World Cup and losing to a country with a native population of about 250,000, not that I believe spin like that for a second.

One way or the other, the FBI have their teeth in this now and I think this will get bigger and bigger as time rolls by. They are totally committed to getting to the heart of this huge global cash syphoning operation

Long term, I don't really know what can be done to make all of this right. Football is such a sprawling, unwieldy thing that I'm not sure you can scrap FIFA and start again.

Maybe they should think about making a clear separation between professional and amateur.

Professional footballers generate the money but FIFA grew from local amateur organisations based on amateur principles which may well work for a schoolboy club in Dublin or a junior team in Johannesburg but when it comes to managing the vast sums of money attached to the professional game, are clearly inadequate.

The most important part of the amateur ethos I'm talking about is the fact that elections take place and we all know that most of the time, these are decided well in advance.

Blatter knew he couldn't lose and he achieved that in the same way every political leader keeps his followers. He looks after them.

That's his power and it allows him to write his own rules.

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