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The boy who cried FIFA

Wednesday 20th December 2017

The holiday season is a slow news cycle for football. Most leagues take time off, leaving nothing to talk about until mid-January.

English competitions cram fixtures around Christmas and New Years because they don’t believe absence makes the heart grow fonder. The FA is too insecure to trust fans will return in in the New Year. Or that children won’t forget football if they aren’t bundled off to a Boxing Day fixture immediately after unwrapping their Kylo Ren action figure and new Cuphead video game.

Full disclosure: if you’ve tried the latter, you might begin to think the FA has a point.

The media, which includes me, has it even tougher. Leagues on winter breaks only leave fans needing to find something else to do for two or three weekends. We have to feed your football habit 24-7 for an entire month when the cupboard is mostly bare.

Without match reports, combined elevens, etc, silly transfer rumours and other nonsense have the entire stage to themselves. Not only are there more, we ham them up to keep you clicking and goggling.

This season is worst than most. There is only one genuine title race ongoing in UEFA's top five leagues. Inter nipped ahead of Napoli last week in Serie A. This week, Juventus moved second. 

Elsewhere, it’s all one-horse races. Manchester City have a double-digit lead in the Premier League. As does ‘struggling’ Bayern in the Bundesliga. PSG are nine up in Ligue 1. Barcelona are six to the good in La Liga. There just isn’t much to get excited about. The transfer window doesn’t open for another fortnight.

Meanwhile you get silly stories like Laurent Blanc announcing he has turned down both the US and Australia’s vacant managerial posts.

I can’t speak for Oz, but the USSF is easing into a presidential election cycle that won’t be decided until February. Eight candidates are in the running. The biggest news from a process racing along at a pace that would hardly worry a glacier is Gulati’s successor will wield less power than the outgoing boss. An autonomous general manager will be appointed to conduct a managerial search.

Given the GM hire is several months away, it’s a head-scratcher as to who exactly was in a position to approach the Frenchman.

There are certain unemployed managers with a degree of talent that suggests they won’t be available long. Blanc is one. So, it’s possible backroom feelers were sent out and the former Bordeaux, France, and PSG boss said, “Merci mais, non merci.”

Le President's stated reasons are simply that he can afford to pick and choose after the Qatari Investment Authority paid him €25 million to not go away angry, and, certain big clubs aside, he prefers to manage in Ligue 1. That's reasonable.

The statement could also be a vehicle for Blanc and his agent to announce the Frenchman has tired of garden leave. That’s all well and good, too. Top-drawer managers should be working.

Just don’t fall for the opportunistic follow-up piece. You know, the one that claims Sven-Goran Ericksson also turned down the post due to the sexual harassment hysteria currently playing out stateside.

There are even wilder rumours out there. Apparently Spain and Peru could be disqualified from the World Cup. In both cases, the countries’ governments are accused of interfering with their respective national federations.

That's a FIFA red card offense. A country’s membership can be suspended, its teams ruled ineligible for sanctioned competitions. That briefly happened to Nigeria after the 2014 World Cup. Upset over the Super Eagles less than majestic performance in Brazil, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan pushed his fortunes too far by sacking the entire NFF and arresting its president for “derailing” the team's World Cup bid. When FIFA rapped Jonathan's knuckles he quickly reinstated the sacked officials. All was then forgiven. Jonathan was even allowed to keep his team scarf and cool hat.

Peru and Spain’s ‘violations’ are far less egregious.

RFEF chairman Angel Maria Villar was arrested on corruption charges in July. He resigned his FIFA and UEFA positions, but remained the nominal RFEF president, albeit suspended. His interim replacement expressed interest in completing Villar’s term. Spain’s council for sport, CSD, expressed the same righteous anger the government at large directed towards Catalan independents. Desiring the corrupt Villar's full removal, CSD urged the RFEF to expedite an election process. FIFA, while not defending Villar, gently reminded the council that any interference in RFEF business wouldn’t be condoned. So long as the CSD is merely asking, not telling, FIFA will almost certainly take no further action.

Were Spain disqualified from Russia, Italy would be its likely replacement. It is the highest FIFA-ranked nation eligible to stand in for a European side. Despite Tutto-sport’s enthusiasm, however, the Azzurri would not assume Peru’s slot should that country suffer the world body’s ultimate wrath. Replacing a South American team with a European one would exceed UEFA’s 14-team limit. In any event, Chile and Colombia are ranked higher than Italy. Either can replace another Conmebol team.

Peru’s offense was a bill introduced by congresswoman and president of the nation’s Education, Youth and Sports Commission, Paloma Noceda. Some feared her legislation could place the FPF under government control, a FIFA non-starter. Noceda claims the bill has to do with sports centres. It allows her ministry to “oversee” the federation, which Peruvian law already permits, but not exert any control. FPF president Edwin Oviedo expressed confidence no interference was occurring.

Honestly, does it look like this woman has nothing better to do with her time than crush her country's World Cup hopes?

With outlets in countries that narrowly missed qualification playing up the possibilities, falsely sparking supporters' hopes, it’s almost enough to transform otherwise rational folk into fools blathering on about fake news...


Don’t look at me like that.

I’m just trying to scratch out a living.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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