?ed ?eview: Triesman gives Russia an unneeded leg-up

Triesman was forced to tender his resignation earlier this week after excerpts from a secretly recorded interview were published in the Sunday press. In a conversation with a former aide, the former FA Chairman directly stated that the Spanish FA were attempting to bribe officials at this summer’s World Cup, and sought the help of their Russian counterparts to do so. In return, Triesman alleged, the Spanish would drop their own World Cup bid for 2018, and instead offer their support to the Russian attempt to stage the event.

The article, published in the Mail on Sunday quotes Triesman as saying: “There’s some evidence that the Spanish football authorities are trying to identify the referees… and pay them. Spain are looking for help from the Russians to help bribe the referees in the World Cup, their votes may then switch to Russia.”

Treisman’s comments have received condemnation from all quarters and the issue has been passed on to FIFA’s spuriously named ‘ethics committee’ for investigation. It is fairly damning stuff and could do fatal damage to the English effort. Just days earlier David Beckham had personally hand delivered the England bid book to FIFA President Sepp Blatter. That colossal 1,752 page document is now looking like the longest suicide note in history.

Unsurprisingly, the Triesman-less English FA hastily apologised to the respective boards they had upset, but that didn’t cut much cloth as first the Spanish, and then Russian boards launched their own reprisals. Head of the Russian bid, Aleksey Sorokin soon went on the offensive, “It is not the first time we hear something absurd being directed towards us. It’s a sign that we are going in the right direction that the quality of our bid leaves no other alternative for our competitors but to bring up these absurd allegations.”

Even before the scandal broke, Sepp Blatter had described the Russian proposals as ‘remarkable’ and within the country they are becoming increasingly confident their bid will win the hearts and minds of the FIFA executive through its own merits. Crucially, Prime Minister Putin has promised to underwrite the whole package, investing billions into the project to bring infrastructure, facilities and stadia up to and above the level of its competitors. Plans are currently afoot to build ten brand new state of the art stadiums whilst also renovating the already UEFA accredited Luzhniki as its showpiece. What may also tick FIFA boxes is that no former Soviet territory has ever hosted one of the sports major international tournaments, and staging the World Cup would effectively complete the renaissance of Russia as a global economic and sporting superpower.

Putin can also count on the backing of several Kremlin friendly oligarch’s to weigh in. Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov has already come forward as an official partner, and Roman Abramovich is set to do likewise. With such hefty backing, Russia could effectively guarantee there would be no financial insecurities which have plagued decisions to grant South Africa, Ukraine and Poland the upcoming World Cup and European Championships. Decisions which have raised questions about the wisdom and process of granting developing nations such prestigious events. Either way, it is yet another example of Russia’s insatiable appetite to become a major player in world football.

With all this talk of World Cup’s we must remember that Andrei Arshavin and co will be watching events unfold from the beach following their failure to qualify. In the aftermath, Guus Hiddink’s reign as national boss is over with him due to take up the position as the boss of Turkey this summer. Replacing the man who led the country to a semi final place in Austria and Switzerland in 2008 is another Dutchman, Dick Advocaat. ‘The Little General’ is no stranger to the land having coached Zenit St Petersburg between 2006 and 2008, when, fuelled by Gazprom cash, Advocaat led Zenit to their first domestic title since the break-up of the Soviet Union and followed that up with the UEFA Cup the year after. Advocaat arrives from managing the Belgian national team, whilst also being caretaker of AZ Alkmaar, having previously had international experience with the Netherlands, twice, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea.

Advocaat’s old club Zenit this week picked up the first piece of silverware of the domestic season by winning the Russian Cup. Zenit just about saw off Sibir Novosibirsk 1-0 thanks to a first half Roman Shirokov penalty. The staging of the final was moved to Rostov, as previous games staged at the 80,000 capacity Luzhniki were invariably had more empty seats visible than punters. Similarly to other continental cups dotted around Europe the Russian Cup really does not get much love from the footballing public. The first round’s containing the lower league sides starts mid-season and concludes the following year. The first round of games for the 2010 cup which Zenit have just won started last July, and the Premier League sides do not enter until the last 32, at which point they largely treat it with disdain and send out a mixture of reserve and youth team players. Anyway, Luciano Spalletti now has a pot to put on top of the telly and his side are also well placed to make that a double by gaining their first league title since 2007. Zenit are a point clear of CSKA and three ahead of Rubin with a game in hand over both. The league now enters a break until the start of July while players disperse for the World Cup. With the national side not involved the Russian people will watch from afar with fleeting interest. Come 2018, they will hope it’s a lot closer to home.

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