Champagne On Ice As Blatter Considers Fifth Term

Blatter to run again? (Image from Getty)It should have been a straight race but now candidates for next year’s FIFA presidency are facing up to the possibility of it being a one horse race. Outgoing chief Sepp Blatter was due to retire and vacate his role allowing someone else to have a shot at football’s top job but a change of heart may have scupper those plans. Reports suggest that 78 year old Blatter, who will be portrayed in a new Tim Roth movie this summer about his life, will seek a fifth term in office. Having secured support from four of the six FIFA confederations (Asia, Africa, North and Central America and South America), Blatter would win by a landslide much to the disappointment of the other candidates.

Jerome Champagne will run  (Image from afp)

Jerome Champagne will run
(Image from afp)

The aptly named Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA executive, UEFA supremo Michel Platini, North American and Caribbean head and FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb and Spanish football president Angel Maria Villar will all have a tough job in persuading the 209 FIFA delegates to choose them over Blatter.  Platini appeared to be the front runner for a long time but has since gone cold on the idea, instead wanting to further secure his foothold on European football with UEFA. Webb then took on the mantel, backed graciously by Blatter himself at a recent gala, but the understanding between the two gentlemen is that Webb will not oppose Blatter if he decides to run again. Instead he will bide his time until 2019, when Blatter will definitely retire (or so he says). At 49, Webb has time on his shoulders and sees the four year grace period as the perfect opportunity to forge stronger ties in the FIFA community and continue to expand on his growing reputation in the game. Villar is a popular figure within FIFA’s ranks but lost a lot of credibility in his pig headed stance against allowing Gibraltar to join UEFA. The Spanish president is yet to announce if he will run but with little chance of success he may choose to wait and see what happens with the top job at UEFA if Platini moves.

President in waiting - Jeffrey Webb  (Image from Getty)

President in waiting – Jeffrey Webb
(Image from Getty)

The only candidate to formerly announce that he intends to run is Jerome Champagne. The former FIFA deputy general secretary left FIFA in 2010 having spent 11 years at the organization. With a strong political background from his days as a French diplomat, Champagne spent most of his time engaged in policy and ethics discussions, which remains a huge issue for FIFA. Since leaving, he has travelled the world as a football consultant working in impoverished countries like Kosovo, Congo and Palestine trying to setup up football related programs as a form of escapism for the masses. This experience bodes well for the top job but his grasp of the fundamental make up of the game may be his downfall. After announcing his intentions to run, Champagne revealed his idea to introduce a new form of punishment to players – the orange card. Put in place to complement the yellow and red card, the orange card will act as a deterrent and when issued will sin bin players for up to five minutes. The idea comes from other sports like Hockey but is flawed in its approach and will be rejected outright by all sanctions of football as unusable. Regardless he will continue with this and his bid, unless Blatter chooses to run again, at which time Champagne will likely put his bid on ice.

The Orange Card - Sin Bins to follow  (Image from PA)

The Orange Card – Sin Bins to follow
(Image from PA)

Whilst the current president has faced criticism for his handling of various issues associated with FIFA and the beautiful game such as match fixing, its stance on racism and of course corruption stemming from the choices of hosts for the next two world cups, he remains in good favour with a majority of the delegates. Seen by many as the mastermind behind FIFA recent growth and financial prosperity, Blatter’s position as president is somewhat safeguarded as long as he wants it to be. Only a catastrophic scandal that direct involves Blatter could rock this steady ship but even then as history has shown, that might not be enough. He survived allegations of bribery and unsolicited payments in exchange for rewarding tournaments to regions or turning a blind eye to issues that should have called for action. It would appear as though Blatter will remain in charge for the foresable future, only to be stopped by either health issues or objections from his family including new girlfriend Linda Barras. They are said to be concerned with the demands placed on the aging Blatter and would like him to resist a fifth term in favour of retirement in order to protect his health. For the other candidates, this might be the only way to halt Blatter and his stint as FIFA president.

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Atletico La Liga Victory Parade On Hold Due To Travel Issues

Atletico celebrate their first title in 18 years (Image from AP)Imagine waiting a long time for something and then not being able to do it due to bad planning. Well that’s exactly what Atletico Madrid are going through right now. The new la Liga champions, who secured their first title in 18 years, are being forced to wait until the start of next season to get their hands on the trophy because Spanish football president Angel Maria Vilar was travelling. Some would say its bad timing given the significance of Sunday’s title decider. But others may feel that it’s a deliberate snub by a man who is rumoured to have grown up as a Real Madrid fan. In any case, it is a black mark against the 64 year old who has been Spanish President since 1988. After one of the most exciting La Liga seasons in the past 20 years, for Vilar not be present at a match of this significance to Spanish football is baffling. Why Vilar did not cancel his travel plans to ensure he would be at the Nou Camp to present the winner with the trophy is unknown. At best he should have appointed someone else to the role to ensure that the season ended on a high. Now trophyless, Atletico are unable to do a well deserved victory parade.

Vilar was on hand last season to present the trophy to Barcelona  (Image from AFP)

Vilar was on hand last season to present the trophy to Barcelona
(Image from AFP)

Not that Diego Simeone will mind as he now switches his focus to this Saturday’s Champions League final against city rivals Real. Injuries to star striker Diego Costa and Turkish midfielder Arda Turan are legitimate concerns for Simone as they look to win their first ever Champions League trophy and end the season with a famous double. Real too have injury worries with Cristiano Ronaldo struggling to shake off a thigh strain. However with Gareth Bale on form and Karin Benzema firing on all cylinders again, Real Madrid are a formidable force with or without Ronaldo. Atletico will know that they need to be at full strength if they are to repeat their win from last year’s Copa del Rey final and will need Costa and Turan fit to do so. Costa limped off after 14 minutes against Barcelona with a tweak of his hamstring that has been troubling him for a few months now. Turan followed seven minutes later after landing heavily and awkwardly on his back following a strong challenge by Cesc Fabregas. The Turkish midfielder is so often the creator of opportunities for Atletico so his absence will be a bitter blow. His chances of making Saturday’s showcase in Lisbon is rated as slim however Costa is more likely to recover and be ready to face Real.

Sweating over Costa and Turan  (Image from Getty)

Sweating over Costa and Turan
(Image from Getty)

Celebrations have been cut short by Simeone who needs his players to remain focused and ready for the challenge ahead. One final effort to round off a dream season for Atletico. Victory parade or not, Atletico will be prepared to face Real Madrid and its star studded lineup. Angel Maria Vilar is expected to be in the crowd presumably cheering on both sides but the responsibility of handing out the trophy will fall to UEFA president Michel Platini who is unlikely to miss such a momentous occasion. If Atletico do win the match, then Simeone and his players may just get the victory parade that they deserve.

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UEFA Finally Welcomes Gibraltar To The Table

The Strait of Gibraltar from space (Image: Nasa)After a 15 year struggle, Gibraltar has finally won its battle with UEFA and been accepted into international competitions as of next season. Despite heavy protest from Spain, who argue that the tiny British run country is actually part of Spain and have made several references to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which marked Gibraltar as such. However under the actual terms of the treaty, Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in perpetuity. Spain unsuccessfully attempted to regain control in the siege of 1727 and again during the extended Great Siege of Gibraltar, which lasted from 1779 to 1783 and to this day have continued their argument of ownership of the territory. Indeed Spain has twice attempted to persuade Gibraltarian voters to change to a spanish sovereignty but have rejected this both times, first in 1967 then again in 2002. Gibraltarian’s see themselves as British and are ruled by the Queen, despite its only border being with Spain.

Despite the political situation that exists, Gibraltar was keen to take part in international football and its FA have spent the best part of two decades trying to persuade UEFA and FIFA to recognise their existence. The break came in October when UEFA granted them a provisional member status by the organisation’s executive committee. A decision on full membership will be decided in May 2013 which if successful could see the tiny nation become the 54th national team recognised by UEFA. With a population of 28,000, Gibraltar would be the smallest nation, just behind San Marino and Liechtenstein who have only a few thousand more in their populations.

Gibraltar Football Team in a friendly

Gibraltar Football Team in a friendly. (Photo by Steve Menary)

Spain continues to argue and protest at the decision, but mostly due to fear about smaller sub sections of their own country following Gibraltar’s lead and applying for UEFA membership. The Basque Country and Catalonia are two areas in Spain with rich footballing histories. They have been recognised for a while by the spanish people and have even played a few international games but more concerning for Spain, is that if they are recognised by UEFA and then FIFA, they could look for independence. This would spell disaster for Spain as both areas contain large cities that are steeped in footballing history – Bilbao and Barcelona.

Catalonia has long been asking for seperation

Catalonia has long been asking for seperation

Regardless of what happens over the border, Gibraltar’s FA head, Gareth Latin is delighted to see their Under-19 and Under-17 teams placed in qualifying groups for their 2014 European Championships. He looks at the ruling as a major victory and the first step in persuading FIFA of its legitimacy. Gibraltar was drawn with an asterisk by its name in an Under-17 pool with England, Ireland and Armenia, and an Under-19 group with the Czech Republic, Croatia and Cyprus. The games will be played started next October, on the grounds that full membership be approved. Spain will continue to protest up until that decision is made but Latin believes they are wrong to make this about politics:

“This is nothing at all to do with politics and we have said it from day one. We should think of football and work in unity”.

The people of Gibraltar have been celebrating the decision and are looking optimistically towards the May 2013 decision. But Latin and Gibraltar will be keeping a keen eye on Sepp Blatter’s health between now and then. As FIFA president, he has the ability to reverse the decision made by UEFA and send Gibraltar back to the drawing board. He is unlikely to do this, but if he is to step down or is forced to for medical reasons between now and May, his replacement could well be Spanish FA president, Angel María Villar, a favourite to take over. That could spell disaster for Latin and the Gibraltar FA’s bid for membership even before a ball is kicked.