2018 World Cup – Critical FIFA vice-president proves important catalyst to strengthen England’s bid

With England’s 2018 World Cup bid enjoying increased spotlight, A Different League delves into the country’s attempts to finally bring football back home. We will also shed some light on England’s competition as the whole process truly kicks into gear.

First up in the series is the story of England’s bid – where they are now and how they got there.

Until FIFA Vice President Jack Warner’s criticism of England’s bid to be the hosts of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it was a bid that was relatively unheard of. Barring the infrequent media interest surrounding David Beckham’s somewhat non-committal role as bid ambassador and the spiralling debt Wembley stadium is having on the FA coffers, England’s bid was seemingly all smiles. Even the occasional appearances of the England’s 1966 World Cup hero’ s Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves backing the bid seemed good enough.

The last time the country were able to host the competition – a good 43 years ago – they won. Knocked out at vital stages of the competition in the past through penalty shoot-outs or by the hand of a certain South American god, England’s World Cup history has been marred by an often unjustified sense of injustice. The fact that England’s national team combine to be the most highly paid group of players in the world, the potential for success surely warranted the opinion then that England, the home of football, deserved to host this tournament.

This dangerous sense of arrogance and deserved glory was very close to ending England’s bid before it even had a chance to get off the ground. Certainly this was a rhetoric acknowledged heavily internationally and with Warner’s overtly scathing attack on the national bid, alarm bells began to ring in the England camp as the wake up call had been well and truly delivered.

It was at this point England’s bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup began to derail – patriotism and a sense of deep rooted nostalgia were not going to be enough to win England the bid. With only one Englishmen, Geoff Thompson the former FA chairman and a FIFA vice-chairman as part of the 24 strong contingent that make up FIFA’s voting members, it is the international community that need convincing England can host the tournament.

The media swarm that unveiled was nothing short of incessant as Warner’s comments launched England’s 2018 World cup bid into disarray. And it was the man at the top, Lord Triesman, chairman of the FA and England’s bid, who took the full brunt of the now national criticism. England’s frailties were beginning to unveil and now the national press and sports columnists alike – who seemed to have a new vested interested in their bid – wanted answers. Triesman’s role as bid chairman would most certainly now require more than his allocated twice per week commitment originally given to the cause. Questions surrounding Lord Triesman’s leadership forced the bid chairman to hold crisis talks. Squabbling within an ever increasingly politically driven board was beginning to show major flaws in Triesman’s disjointed team. His obvious inability to formulate cohesion amongst the executive ranks was forcing the bid further from its most important task.

On November 12, just 12 days prior to England’s 16 host cities applicants submitted their individual bids to host World Cup games during the 2018 tournament, Triesman had now identified the frailties within the bid team that were so evidently pulling the campaign apart. “I have always felt that the fundamentals of the organisation were sound, but I did think that so many distractions were making the bigger picture invisible. It is a bit depressing if lots of extraneous circumstances are making the job harder”

From the original 12 that made up the England 2018 bid team, Triesman’s reshuffle had reduced the team to a mere seven. This streamlined, yet focused redefined group of individuals would hopefully be the turning point in England’s bid. A bid whose deep rooted notions of sovereignty and a belief that they deserve to host the competition would need instead to concentrate heavily on staging the best tournament a country possibly could.

Geoff Thompson was brought in, a long awaited and powerful appointment of a FIFA vice-president was the first step in the right direction for Triesman’s redefined board. Gordon Brown’s envoy Richard Cabron was removed from the board after mounting criticism surrounding the government’s failings to deliver a promised £5m grant to the team, loaning instead only £2.5m. Sports Minster Gerry Sutcliffe and Birmingham City’s now ex-chief executive Karren Brady were also among those to go. Triesman will however, hold weekly meetings with Sutcliffe to soothe the bid’s already fragile ties with the government and to keep them up-to-date with the developments of England’s bid.

The main board now consist of chief executive Andy Anson, Lord Coe, Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney and former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott who will join Triesman and Thompson’s newly focused team. Chelsea’s famously outspoken and bullish director of communications Simon Greenberg also joins the campaign in which all parties will be now allocated specific roles. The reshuffle has on one hand shown Triesman’s lack of leadership and direction as bid chairman. On the other however, it has identified the bid’s flaws publicly but more importantly, sought to redefined England’s bid as a real contender to host the tournament.

England’s bid will face stiff opposition from the other bidding nations of Japan, Russia, Australia, Indonesia, the United States and joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands and Portugal and Spain. With Qatar and South Korea bidding to host the 2022 World Cup, it is perhaps evidence enough to suggest Triesman’s reshuffle has not only led to England becoming favourites to host the tournament in 2018, but has also led Jack Warner to revoke his earlier and now seemingly influential criticisms. On Saturday November 28, in a meeting with Gordon Brown in Trinidad, Warner acknowledged that now “is England’s time” to host the 2018 World Cup.

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