Isolated in FIFA, English soccer focuses on Europe

After failing to halt Sepp Blatter’s re-election as soccer’s
leader, the country he calls the game’s ”motherland” is turning
its attention from FIFA to focus on its position in Europe.

The English Football Association proposed that Blatter’s
unchallenged ”coronation” be postponed amid the spate of
corruption allegations facing the global body, only to fail and see
him secure a fourth term Wednesday with 186 out of 203 votes.

With FIFA vice presidents speaking out at the congress to ”pour
vitriol” on England, as FA general secretary Alex Horne put it,
the country has never looked more isolated.

”We might have made some new friends, but pushed others away,”
Horne said. ”Taking a strong side like that will appeal to some
people and we’ll find out who they are in the next few weeks. …
Our tactic now is to make sure we’ve not damaged our relationships
in Europe.”

That is essential with UEFA now holding the key to a vital
revenue stream for the FA.

European football’s governing body has centralized broadcast
rights for qualifying matches to major tournaments from the 2016
European Championship onwards, giving the 53 members guaranteed
income.

”The centralization of broadcast is very important to us in
terms of our revenues,” Horne said. ”So we have to work very
closely with (UEFA) to make sure we sell our TV deal appropriately
over the next four years.”

But it could be tough working with Angel Villar Llona. The
Spanish FA president, who is also a vice president of both FIFA and
UEFA, complained at Wednesday’s Congress about attacks on FIFA in
the British parliament and media.

FIFA’s senior vice president, Julio Grondona, told the English
to ”leave the FIFA family alone” after ”telling lies.”

”I was surprised at how far Grondona and Villar Llona went in
terms of just rambling about politicians and journalists telling
lies – that seemed a bit over the top,” Horne said. ”Villar Llona
was probably more disturbing than Grondona actually, for him to
take the stage and speak like that.”

But Horne believes the FA hastened Blatter into announcing a
series of reforms in the wake of a bribery scandal that saw two
FIFA executive members suspended on Sunday, including Asian
football chief Mohamed bin Hammam, who would have been the only
challenger in the presidential election.

In a major policy shift, Blatter said he wanted future World Cup
hosts to be decided by a vote of all 208 federations instead of
FIFA’s 24 executive committee members. The congress also endorsed
his plans to revamp the ethics committee and bring in more
transparency.

”I think he has been pressured into going as far as he has
done,” Horne said. ”We’ll hold Blatter to account to deliver what
he’s promised. I’m as optimistic as I can be given we didn’t quite
get what we wanted. We didn’t get the deferral, but pushed them on
the other elements of reform.”

Blatter insisted that England won’t face any retribution, such
as losing its place on FIFA’s rule-making body The International
Football Association Board.

”There’s no bad feeling with any of the associations that
didn’t vote for me,” Blatter said. ”Don’t worry about the
English. The No. 1 national association in FIFA – the FA founded
the game in 1863 – have the right to be called The FA, Football
Association.”

Jim Boyce, who replaced Geoff Thompson as Britain’s FIFA Vice
President on Wednesday, fears his own position could be under
threat.

”There have always been threats around in relation to the
privileges such as the British vice presidency and the
International Board, and there were more hints yesterday,” Boyce
said.

While the FA may have lost friends within FIFA, its credibility
back in England appears to have been enhanced at a time when the
government believes football is the country’s worst governed sport
and is being investigated by a parliamentary committee.

”I’m getting that this will go down well at home – on that
basis I’m happy,” Horne said.

A more consensual tone was struck by Boyce, a Northern
Irishman.

”England as a football nation are undoubtedly one of the best
nations in the world, there’s no doubt about that, but sometimes
some people feel that there is a little bit of arrogance there,”
Boyce said. ”I’m just being honest.”