A big day for football. Eyes and ears remain focussed on Zürich with the FIFA Circus where the chief clown is also ringmaster, is in town. There’s mutiny in the air but I suspect not on the ballot papers.
Sepp Blatter has friends in high places. And crucially, a lot more who don’t occupy those loftier platforms. Friends like Vladimir Putin probably seems like a good thing to the Swiss but that rather depends on which part of the world you live in and your political persuasion. Some will be seduced by support of the bear-wrestling Russian president, others not.
But the power-brokers are very worrying indeed. Reportedly supporting the beleaguered Blatter en masse, some members of the CAF believe that Europe can do one. They put it more poetically of course but essentially, world football doesn’t quite view UEFA members financial power as positively for their pockets as the FIFA dollar. It escapes them that sponsors view the former as rather quite important indeed, it’s why the Champions League sponsors pay more per season than for a couple of World Cups.
Positive words are being spoken, tantrums thrown with seats on the Executive Committee remaining empty in futile gestures, but when push comes to shove, the reality is that the 200 or so members of FIFA are required to show more courage in their actions than they ever shown before to vote Blatter out. At least 70 have to vote against Blatter to stop his automatic victory parade. PR guff suggests Prince Ali has that number but then he will need to find 30 or more turncoats to vote for him in the second ballot or things remain the same.
As if voting in a football conference requires courage. It just requires a conscience bigger than an ego and deeper in strength than the pocket.
Tomorrow’s headlines are being prepared and as much as the FA would want them to be about Wembley, the majority will be about FIFA. It’s going to be a brave new world or all-out football war. Michel Platini may fear the return of trouble to the terraces but the biggest hooligans run the game.
Arsenal meanwhile are preparing for the meeting with Aston Villa, away from the spotlight to a certain extent with post-season tours carrying as much, if not more, media coverage. Let them, the eyes of the world will be turning to north London on Saturday, no matter who is playing where.
That is the key feature for today. If they don’t know already, Arsène will surely be telling the players who the starting XI is, ignoring footballing folklore of the sleepless nights before the big day out at Wembley.
Arsenal are, according to Mathieu Flamini, acutely aware that they need to play from the kick-off rather than turning up twenty minutes into this year’s final,
We got off to a nightmare start and we have to make sure we learn from those mistakes and not repeat them this time. We made life very difficult for ourselves against Hull and this time we will try to make things easier and more simple. There is less pressure on us this time and we want to show that we are a team with a lot of quality.
It’s interesting that he thinks there is less pressure this year than last. Had he said a different pressure exists, I’d have agreed. The weight has gone from the shoulders over not winning any trophies but now, as favourites, they are expected to win. More importantly, Arsène and a number of players have stated that they feel the club can challenge for the title next season. Winning tomorrow offers some substance to those claims. It also puts a feelgood factor into play for the summer although you suspect that will quickly disappear with the absence of transfer activity. Or not signing the right player (which is a euphemism for the player you want, before you ask who the right player is).
Flamini was phlegmatic about his role in the squad. The team has done well since February and as he put it, players “just have to accept it” as it’s part and parcel of being at a big club. Some are reasonably assured of their place in the side than others. One is Per Mertesacker who re-iterated that the World Cup preyed heavily on his mind and drained his motivation for the first half of the campaign.
According to the German, it was Wenger who pointed out how previous World Cup winners dealt with the after-effects of achieving the biggest reward that football had to offer. Vieira went from strength to strength but Petit, my failing memory suggests, wasn’t as influential in 1998/99 as he had been the previous year. Arsenal collectively struggled with fewer points after five games than this season’s poor return. Indeed that year, the brief flirtation with the top of the table came following a run of fifteen wins and four draws from Christmas onwards. Sound familiar?
Coincidence or a deeper problem? Title or World Cup hangover?
But that was then, this is now. Learn the lessons of the past and move forward, something Arsenal haven’t always done. I hope this time it’s different, you will as well; I’m sure you’d rather not have twenty minutes of madness and be two-down before Arsenal start playing. There’s an arrogance that comes naturally in supporting a big club, you assume that the XI will win every game beyond the meetings with their peers, even if we know that isn’t always going to be the case. Defeats are far fewer than victories.
Villa are perceived as a better side than last season’s Hull, even if the Premier League table suggests otherwise. They finished one place lower than last year’s beaten finalists; it’s essentially the same sort of match yet we don’t dismiss Villa as readily. I’d venture we’ve learned some of last season’s lessons in the stands.
Hopefully the players will have as well.