FIFA's Executive Committee ended it's quarterly meetings with a stunning orgy of self-congratulations, with FIFA Emperor for Life Sepp Blatter proudly announcing to everyone's great relief that the organization's coffers are bulging, and the current international financial unpleasantness will have no effect whatever on the opulent lifestyle of either himself or his assembled cronies.
Describing FIFA's financial situation as "very comfortable", he noted that some clubs and leagues around the world may be facing some difficult financial times in the coming year and he expressed FIFA's willingness to help "however we can".
That help will most assuredly not include Sepp giving them money, of course. If FIFA started giving money away to support soccer it would set an unfortunate precedent. What exactly he would be willing to do is a good question, but I imagine it would involve issuing some statements and possibly flying into town and lecturing various local Federation officials in between cocktail receptions.
And of course the English Premier League needn't be checking their mailboxes for bundles of Swiss francs; Blatter (and his creation, Michael Platini) would like nothing better than to see teams like Arsenal and Chelsea and Manchester United out in the street with accordions and dancing monkeys, begging passersby for change.
In any case, in addition to taking out FIFA's bank statements and doing a Happy Dance, Blatter got his assembled BFF Club to agree to greater supervision of international transfers involving players under the age of 18, which will now have to be submitted to a FIFA commission (it's unclear what the commission will do with the information, but it's a step towards the "transparency" which is now the announced goal of every entity on the planet).
Furthermore, every academy player will have to be registered by their parent club with their respective national federations.
(The effect on MLS youth academies will be minimal; all rostered players are already registered with USSF through either USYSA or US Club Soccer, and to my knowledge there's not a lot of paid, club-to-club transfer activity amongst American 15 year olds.)
This is intended to put a damper on the practices of the Big Rich clubs (read: the EPL elite, which clubs Sepp hates like Al Gore hates CO2) who buy up promising young kids from smaller, less affluent team's academies. In the process, it may even shut up blowhards like Arsene Wenger, who is fond of bragging about the all the fine players that Arsenal's academy produces without mentioning that they bought most of them from somebody else.
Unfortunately, it will do very little to stop the deplorable abuse of poor African kids whose families impoverish themselves to come up with money to pay "agents" for "tryouts" in Europe. Most of the time the clubs take a pass, and the kids end up stranded on the streets of Europe. But since this is much more a continental problem rather than something Blatter can bash the Premiership with, they're dragging their feet on this outrageous form of modern slavery.
With regard to the question of whether FIFA will indeed be awarding both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups at the same time, an issue which made even the hopelessly greed-stricken FIFA Executive Committee blanch a bit back in October, Sepp - as expected - finally got enough of his cronies on board and the motion passed. Those who felt that it made no sense to award the rights to a tournament that will be held 14 years from now when half the board will be dead were swayed by the convincing argument that the more countries they can dangle the World Cup in front of over the next two years the more bribes they'll all be sucking up.
At this point there are damn few countries who aren't being encouraged to bid, and the "fact finding process" (read" flying around the world being treated like a Middle Eastern potentate) will begin immediately.
The most interesting issue, however, is the increasingly acrimonious question of the proposed "Great Britain Football Team" entry in the 2012 London Olympics.
The Home Countries (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have dug in their heels and simply refuse to go participate. As I've posted previously, they don't believe the copious assurances that FIFA, in the person of people like Jack Warner who a) hates England and b) thinks Great Britain has way too much influence in FIFA, will not use this as a lever to take away the independence of the other federations and eliminate their votes.
(Please don't suggest that St Lucia or the Turks and Caicos shouldn't be members of FIFA, as Jack will have you knee-capped, but Scotland they can do without)
Sepp Blatter himself said just last Spring that "it would be very, very bad" for all four of the federations to combine for the Olympics, commenting that it would "prove" they are just one entity.
Now, however, he is plenty ticked off at them for refusing to go along. Idiot British PM Gordon Brown, taking a break from emptying his drool cup, is lobbying hard for the combination, accepting Blatter's word that it will "have no affect" on the long term status of the four federations.
But as Andrew Jennings remarked on this very subject "you can't believe a single word that comes out of Sepp Blatter's mouth"
What's even more interesting is that Blatter, who everyone knows is notoriously outraged at any hint of "government interference" with FIFA processes, is meeting regularly with Brown and trumpeting his support. A Scottish football official has lodged a formal complaint with FIFA on this very subject. I wasn't aware the Scots had such well-developed senses of humor.
In any case, Blatter is now fed up with this resistance to his rule and announced that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must submit "a solution" to "the problem" by the time the FIFA Executive meets again in March. "The ball is now in their court" said the sports-metaphor challenged Blatter.
This is just short of hilarious. The Home Countries refuse to combine with England for the Olympic soccer tournament. Not now, not later, not ever. Period. They simply don't trust Blatter, Warner and Co.
Blatter is demanding that they come up with "a solution" to the problem. They already have: the solution is for Great Britain to field a team made up of English players. Call it Great Britain, call it Mars, call it whatever you like but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland refuse to be part of it.
There will be no other "solution" forthcoming.
As for Brown, well, his interests are clear: he wants to 2018 World Cup for England, and would stand outside FIFA Headquarters, drop his pants and sing "I'm a Little Teapot" at high noon if it would make Blatter happy. He doesn't seem to grasp that he's just being used. The only thing that Sepp cares about is money.
The question I have, and I wish someone would explain it to me, is this:
Why does Sepp care so much?
He claims that it's because having players from all four teams represented would create "great fan interest" in the Olympic Tournament.
This is as opposed to, apparently, the total apathy, empty stadiums and complete dearth of interest with which the Olympic soccer - traditionally the best-attended event at every Olympics - will otherwise be greeted in London England. A short train ride from all of Europe. Right.
Maybe it's just me, but if this wasn't a knockout blow, a power play to get Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland off of the FA board and award those seats to someone more pliable - say, Chad, Burma and Outer Mongolia - then I simply cannot conceive of why FIFA cares so much.