Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sepp Blatter is Superman. Pass me the Krytonite, Danny Jordaan.

“Sepp Blatter is Superman.” That’s what some bloke called (deep breath) Liutauras Varanavicius told England's Daily Telegraph as he arrived in Zurich for today's FIFA Presidency vote. Lit, as I like to call him, is the president of the mighty Lithuanian Football Association.

Inside the footballing halls of power, Blatter greeted the 208 members of his footballing congress by confirming he is, by a remarkable twist of FIFA fate, the only candidate after Qatar’s suspended representative Mohamed Bin Hammam withdrew on Sunday.

Yes, Bin Hammam. The man who persuaded FIFA his tiny, overheated, oily emirate should be awarded the 2022 World Cup ahead of mighty Australia last December.

Jack Warner, the CONCACAF bloke who is also currently suspended, has blown the lid on Blatter’s over-long reign. He showed us an email from Blatter’s oily henchman Jerome Valcke which said “Qatar cannot buy the FIFA Presidency like they did the World Cup.”

Bosh. Done. Blatter’s reign must end. The decision to go ahead with Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 must be reviewed.

Both the English and Scottish FAs earlier today called on FIFA to delay Blatter’s one-man election – but with Lithuanians and the like around, it just ain’t going to happen to Superman.

Unless Michael Platini, the head of UEFA, can be persuaded to run – or perhaps Danny Jordaan, the South African who ran the 2010 show so well - we may just have to accept another four years of Septic Blatter, 75, who has been in charge of the world game since 1998.

The FA statement insisted: “An external party should be appointed to improve governance of FIFA.”

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International joined the chorus, with Sylvia Schenk, their senior advisor on Sport, saying: "Free and fair elections cannot take place when there is a suspicion that voters may have been swayed. Fifa delegates know that they must clean house if their vote is to have legitimacy."

Stewart Regan, chief executive officer of the Scottish FA, said his organisation wanted the vote postponed for three to six months while there was an independent review into the matter.

He said: “Things are changing on an hourly basis so we’ll decide as close to the vote as possible about what well do with our vote.”

Delays? Independent reviews? Preposterous. Blatter would never allow it.

The sad old dictator who frantically waved his ethics booklet around when verbally savaged by journalists in Monday night’s classic press conference opened his congress last night by saying: “I thought that we were living in a world of fair play, mutual respect and discipline, and I must say this is not the case any.

“It’s no longer the case because our pyramid of Fifa is suddenly unstable on its basis and there’s a danger.”

At least he’s admitting that much. The night before he was insisting there was no crisis and telling us to be elegant and respectful.

Blatter, standing for a fourth term in his personal FIFAdom, said he would speak to delegates tomorrow, is reported to have told the English Daily Telegraph he will be telling his delegates today “about this danger that’s lurking and tell you how we can fight and react to this threat.”

But football can take guidance from that other famously troubled international sporting body, the International Olympic Committe. Their president, Jacques Rogge (pictured with Blatter above), took the chance to tell FIFA’s delegates: “Thirteen years ago we were having to face the same ordeal in the Salt Lake City case. The IOC ultimately emerged a stronger organisation, and from within. Our past calls for humility, and I will definitely not point the finger or lecture you. I’m sure FIFA can emerge stronger, and from within.”

We can only pray that happens. I'm not holding my breath.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk.

Monday, 30 May 2011

So Sepp Blatter's FIFA ARE corrupt: But we knew that six months ago

At 16.43 Greenwich Mean Time on December 2, when Qatar were granted the 2022 World Cup, Sepp Blatter’s FIFA were exposed as corrupt.

It’s taken six months, but today, with president Sepp Blatter teetering and his Qatari rival Mohamed Bin Hammam suspended, the end is finally nigh.

Yup, all that time to realise FIFA care more about money than football.

In truth, we knew that the moment oil-rich minnows Qatar were given the hosting rights to the World Cup. As I said at the time, how can you award the World Cup to a tiny nation with plenty of money but no sense? A country 6,000 square kilometres smaller than Swaziland which has never qualified for the tournament?

Just what was the attraction? It’s too hot to play football in Qatar in June and July. You aren’t allowed a beer while you watch. You certainly wouldn’t recommend the place to your gay friends. But then they have no fans to speak of; alcoholic, homosexual or otherwise.

Qatar? Highest per capita production in the world but no footballing tradition. Currently ranked 92 in the world. All 12 “air-conditioned” stadiums would have been built within an hour of each other in the 163rd largest “nation” in the world. Then taken down and sent to poorer nations. Aaaah!

Oh, and like most of their oily neighbours, they’ve had an undemocratic royal family in charge for centuries. We don’t know about democracy protests in Qatar over the past few months. Al Jazeera wouldn’t dare mention in.

So how does a nation like that get the World Cup? Now we know. Pure corruption. Quite rightly this morning, independent Australian senator Nick Xenophon has demanded FIFA pays back the £29.6m they spent bidding for the 2022 World Cup.

The Socceroos had a great case. Not too hot, beers allowed, queers allowed, democracy reigns, successful Olympics in 2000, great Rugby World Cup in 2003. And it would have taken football’s greatest show Down Under for the first time ever.

Xenophon told various sources: "It appears corrupt and highly questionable behaviour goes to the core of FIFA. Australia spent almost $46m on a bid we were never in the running for.

"Now we hear that bribes may have been made to fix the result for who will head up FIFA."

May have been? That’s an understatement. I said weeks before the announcement, on South Africa’s 702 radio, England’s BBC radio 5, Sky News, Supersport and on my website and in dozens of newspapers, that Russia and Qatar were nailed on as hosts. Blatter would go where the money is. No question.

Today FIFA’s notorious representative from the CONCACAF region, Jack “Pirates of the Caribbean” Warner offers this email from Jerome Valcke, the oily-tongued FIFA general secretary: " Mohamed Bin Hammam [the Qatar FA chief] thought you can buy FIFA as they bought the World Cup."

Bin Hammam – suspended from FIFA over accusations of bribery and recently (last Sunday) withdrawn from the race to replace fuhrer, sorry President, Sepp Blatter at the helm - responded by saying: "I don't know why Valcke has said that. If I was paying money for Qatar you also have to ask the 13 people who voted for Qatar."

Too right. But while we wait to hear from them, Valcke insists his e-mail to Warner was intended to remain "private" and desperately tried to talk his way out of a corner, telling the BBC: "Warner sent me an email asking if I want that Bin Hammam to run for Fifa president, he said that I should ask Bin Hammam to pull out."

So what? Valcke has admitted the 2022 World Cup was “bought”. That’s enough. Case closed.

Blatter, 75, is seeking a fourth term in charge of the global footballing organisation he has run without serious opposition since 1998 amid continual allegations of bribery and dictatorship. Today, FIFA confirmed its one-man election will go ahead, as scheduled, on Wednesday.

Sounds a bit like a Qatari election that. As long as your surname is Al Thani, you can go for the top job.

Trinidad and Tobago government minister Warner, who is president of the North, Central American and Caribbean confederation (Concacaf), is – like Hammam – suspended from FIFA over allegations of bribery.

He said: “You don't have to believe me, you don't have to like me, nobody has to eat with me, drink with me or sleep with me but Jesus Christ, take the truth when you see it

"I look on the suspension as the worst form of justice by any sporting organisation.

"They came premeditated, they weren't prepared to listen, they were hand-picked to do a task and they did just that.

"The guys were hand-picked by Blatter. A kangaroo court would be a decent thing to say.”

Warner has also accused Blatter of making a gift of computers and an unauthorised $1m (£607,000) to his fellow CONCACAF officials. He added ominously to a Sky News reporter colleague: “The email is child’s play. There’s plenty more to come.”

Surely now, with the USA’s FIFA representative Chuck Blazer blowing the whistle alongside Warner, Qatar must stand down as hosts.

Luckily, FIFA (unlike Qatar) is a democracy. Blatter can’t possibly serve a fourth term. Wednesday’s election must be called off. It’s clearly not right. Not with Warner’s Valcke email on show. But I’m not holding my breath. Even Blazer thinks the farcical election should go ahead. On Sky News looking flustered, he says he feels betrayed by Warner, his relationship has broken down. The big beardy man says Blatter is okay, Qatar’s hosting is an “independent issue”.

For FIFA and Blatter, credibility is no longer an issue. We knew that last December. Like so many global sporting organisations, it stinks.

Friday, 6 May 2011

How fair is football: Match fixer was working within a mile of Wembley

Individuals from SIX national football associations are being investigated after a convicted match-fixer was found operating from a base near Wembley Stadium.

Wilson Raj Perumal, from Singapore, has been probed by Interpol and FIFA over his ability to influence the results of international and club matches around the world over the past three years.

The Daily Telegraph reports Perumal, arrested in Finland in February, had been working within a mile of the “home of football” in London, where the Champions League final will take place between Barcelona and Manchester United on May 28.

Fifa’s head of security Chris Eaton, a former Interpol operative said: “England is the home of football and London is a global financial centre so it does not surprise me that the financial aspects of this activity lead to London.

“The threat from match-fixing to the integrity of the global game is significant.

“Interviews with those involved have told us that that fixers can spend upwards of $300,000 (£182,000) to stage a friendly international and they do that with the expectation of a significant profit margin. Our information is that we are talking about tens of millions of dollars in profit from each successful fix.”

In 2009, Perumal was named as having arranged a number of games played by Zimbabwe in south-east Asia, some of which the Zimbabwe FA believe were fixed.

He was also behind the international friendly between Bahrain and “Togo” last year when the African side lost 3-0... and turned out to be a band of disparate players rather than the Togan national squad (pictured above).

Perumal is currently on remand in Finland after being arrested on February 25. He was picked up by immigration officers but is now under investigation for his involvement in alleged match-fixing in the Finnish domestic league.

FIFA and Interpol are believed to have evidence casting doubt over the result of nearly 300 matches over the past three years with referees being influenced by payments of £6,000 (R66,000) with Perumal’s men then allegedly tipping off gamblers in the Asian betting syndicates.

The London base provides “cover for the flow of funds through legal and illegal channels” according to the Paul Kelso’s special report in the Telegraph yesterday.

The FIFA under-17 and under-20 World Cups, due to be held during the summer in central America, could both be influenced.

Eaton added: “We have admissions from those we are focusing on that they have been planning to target younger players at the under-17 and under-20 level.

“That is enough to make me concerned that we need to put preventative measures in place.”

The Fifa investigation centres on Raj Perumal, who until February operated from a flat in a new apartment block in the Wembley City development, within sight of the distinctive arch of the national stadium.

Perumal, convicted for match-fixing in 1995, has also been found guilty of “theft and violence” in Singapore – he fled there in July last year after he was sentenced to five years’ “corrective training” in jail for driving his car over a police officer.

He is being held in Finland on suspicion of bribing players to fix matches and in connection with an attempt to pay $300,000 to a Finnish club. Eleven players have been arrested and face charges.

Perumal’s flat, in the Quadrant Court development at Wembley, was raided by officers from the Metropolitan Police in March following a request from the Finnish police.

The flat was empty when police raided it. Chandra Ratna, an associate of Perumal, told The Daily Telegraph that he had been asked to clear the flat by Perumal and said that he had thrown its contents away.

Telephone records seized by Finnish police are understood to reveal that Perumal has a “wide network” of contacts in world football – including 60 listed contacts in the UK including current and former international players.

High on the list of suspicious games are two internationals held in the Turkish resort of Antalya.

All seven goals in the games between Bolivia and Latvia, and Estonia and Bulgaria, were penalties with betting patterns indicating a “fix”.

Six officials – three from Hungary and three from Bosnia - have been banned for life.

Both games were set up by Perumal’s compatriot, Anthony Santia Raj.

As Perumal languishes in Finland, Germany is preparing for sentencing in their largest ever match-fixing trial.

Ante Sapina, a Croatian jailed for bribing a German referee in 2006, is one of seven defendants charged with fixing 47 matches including games in several European leagues, the qualifying rounds of the Champions League and a World Cup qualifier.

He is expected to receive a sentence of around six years.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Real Truth: Why Mourinho and Ronaldo will be leaving the Bernebeu

Real Madrid must surely begin the long farewell to coach Jose Mourinho and star man Cristiano Ronaldo – the world’s most expensive player – after their Champions League semi-final defeat against arch-rivals Barcelona.

The controversial couple can hardly stay at the Bernebeu after the saga of the infamous four frantic Clasicos wound to its inevitable conclusion at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night.

Even former Real owner Ramon Calderon accepts they have gone too far after the shenigans surrounding the four games between the two sides over the past fortnight. He told the BBC: “Talk like this is harmful for Real Madrid. Big clubs should not blame the referee for their mistakes or their defeats.

"We invested £400m in the last two years to be a very important and strong team so if you lose you cannot blame injuries, bad luck, referees or nothing. If you lose you have to congratulate the rival and that is all.

"What Mourinho did in terms of talking about UEFA and referees is not acceptable at all."

Just as he did at Chelsea and Inter Milan, the Special One has talked himself out of a job despite his surprise win in the Copa Del Rey against the old enemy a fortnight ago.

Quotes like these simply don’t make for a long-term retirement plan. Mourinho, who watched the second leg from his hotel room 400 yards down the road “for security reasons” fumed: “ It's clear that against Barcelona you have no chance.

"I don't know if it's the publicity of Unicef [the club's shirt sponsor], I don't know if it's because they are very nice, but they've got this power.

"I don't know if it's the friendship of [Spanish football federation president Angel Maria] Villar at Uefa, where he is vice-president."

And former Manchester United star Ronaldo wasn’t holding back after a relatively peaceful 1-1 second leg draw saw Barca progress to the final at Wembley on May 28 with a 3-1 aggregate win.

Real’s iconic top scorer, threatened by a Barca fan just after half-time on Tuesday night (see picture) said: "Next year they might as well give the cup directly to Barcelona."

"The team is sad, but we knew it was an uphill battle.

"The name of the match is Mission Impossible IV. Once again it was the referee that didn't allow us to dictate the outcome. We knew we could beat Barca, but the referee didn't let us.

"Higuain's goal was good. Pique pushed me and I landed on Mascherano. He didn't used to fall to the ground in England, but he's picked up the bad habit of doing it here like everyone else.

"Those who know about football know Barca are very well protected. But you just have to live with all these injustices.""

It’s not as if Mourinho and Ronaldo don’t have a point. Higuain’s goal looked valid from where I sat and would have put the semi-final in the balance at 2-1.

Instead, the Belgian referee, surely a Waloon, judged Ronaldo to have fouled the gymnastic Mascherano as he fell under Gerard Pique’s push.

Decision after decision went the way of the diving, rolling, play-acting Catalans.

But they remain the best club side in the world – largely thanks to that little man Lionel Messi – and they are unlikely to slip up in the La Liga title race or the Champions League final as refereeing errs on the side of caution and ballet dancing.

Mourinho and Ronaldo have to accept modern football is no longer a man’s game. The tiny Messi is well protected – he had a record 12 fouls given against him on Tuesday night – and the dull Spanish World Cup winning ploy of possession and mincing is now simply the way of the softly-softly footballing world.

Given the passionate hatred between Catalan and Castillian – the Barcelona v Madrid split is a matter of historic nationalism and civil war not simply ball games – how can Mourinho or Ronaldo soldier on? How can they go through such perceived injustice against next season?

With Calderon joining the critique levelled by Alfredo di Stefano, what price on Mourinho returning to Chelsea with Ronaldo for a few billion Roman Abramovich roubles? Ronaldo needs another big money move before he hits middle age and Mourinho's defensive tactics, though they bring results, fail to live up to Madridista expectations.

At least in England’s Premier League the odd diver is booked. And nationalism counts for nothing when Manchester United face the Blues, as we will find out on Sunday.