Did Mexico Tank a Qualifier for Jack Warner?

I really missed seeing Jack Warner doing the ceremonial handshakes last night. Apparently there was some kid on the island who took his eye off his piggy bank for a minute and Jack was tied up at the local Coinstar machine.

Most of you probably know that Jack Warner is not actually the President of the TTFF. That position is held by the otherwise totally anonymous Oliver Camps.

Warner's title is "Special Advisor". Indeed so special that, for example, when T&T played Scotland in a friendly a couple years ago Warner told the head of the Scottish FA to make out the check for T&T's cut to him personally.

(Said official refused and made the request public, whereupon Warner told reporters he was a racist and he was quickly replaced. Jack doesn't play)

The reason, of course, is that being head of a member federation AND head of the confederation said country is a part of is, even by FIFA's standards, a gross conflict of interest.

But of course Jack controls every facet of the program - and every dime that hits the door - with an iron fist. During the 2006 World Cup Warner set up a separate corporation called Local Organizing Committee 2006 for the purpose of accepting the sponsorship money which became available when T&T qualified. Jack made his son Daryll the President.

Now some people might ask why that money didn't go to, say, the T&T Federation, but those people don't know Jack. Daryll took in millions of dollars from companies like adidas that was supposed to support the players. Of course, as we all know, not one dime ever went to the players. Jack didn't just cut himself in. He didn't even take the lions share. He simply kept it all.

The point of all this - and there's so much more; the ticket thievery, the FIFA money, on and on - isn't that Jack is a crook. That's pretty well established.

Rather, the point is that while an administrator like Chuck Blazer wants his home Federation in the World Cup so he can puff out his chest in the stadium VVIP suites (when FIFA gives you a pass for the "VIP Suite" you think you're getting the red carpet treatment, but in actuality they also maintain VVIP suites for the real elite, like, for example, themselves).

Plus Blazer, as a very old and dear friend of Sunil Gulati's - they shared a box at the last Super Bowl - gets to root, root, root for the home team and all of that.

Jack Warner couldn't care less. For him the point of qualifying is simple and direct: the money. Because when a team makes the finals of a World Cup, a veritable cornucopia of cash and other loot becomes available in the form of a bigger cut of the gate, much more sponsorship money and, of course, access to a much bigger pile of prime tickets.

We're talking millions here. The best estimates from 2006 say that T&T took in US$20 million. Not a bad day's work.

But of course to get your paws on that money your country has to qualify.

Which brings us to Wednesday October 12, 2005 in Port of Spain.

Mexico, which was scheduled to play T&T, had already qualified for Germany. T&T was in fourth place with 10 points while Guatemala, playing already-in Costa Rica the same day, was at 8. In order to guarantee Jack Warner a chance to make untold millions of dollars the following summer, T&T needed to win.

As the saying goes, the most dangerous place on Earth might be between Jack Warner and a big pile of money. And of course Mexico was standing in the way that night.

Now it's true that most countries in this situation don't normally bring their A side, and Mexico was no exception. However, in this case there are people who know - I surely don't - who say that to call the side the Tri brought down even a C team might have been generous.

In any case, Mexico scored an early goal, then T&T equalized and went ahead on a goal where the hitter was obviously offside. At which point, to quote a fervent Mexico fan: "they did not pursue an equalizer after TnT went ahead. So they did them a favor......they essentially did nothing for the rest of the game."

And the keys to the vault fell directly in Warner's lap.

Now of course things like this are in the eye of the beholder, and certainly when Warner is involved the tendency is to see conspiracies everywhere (unfortunately it's usually true but that's beside the point).

Some people - particularly the Guatemalans, who also won that night and would have gone to Germany if Mexico hadn't seemingly laid down and played dead - have always said it was a setup but, of course, nobody can prove it either way.

And they still can't, but maybe a little light was shed a week or so ago by none other than Ricardo LaVolpe, who was Mexico's coach that night.

Now you have to understand how Mexicans feel about LaVolpe. As near as I can tell, fan opinion about him is more or less equally divided between three different yet, for them apparently, vaguely equal points of view: LaVolpe is a) The anti-Christ b) an imbecile c) an Argentine.

Nevertheless, LaVolpe IS QUOTED IN A NUMBER OF ARTICLES as saying that there was, if not exactly a formal quid-pro-quo, certainly the feeling that it might be a good idea to let T&T win to avoid "problems".

Said "problems" being, of course, keeping Jack Warner's hand out of a multi-million dollar cookie jar.

Nobody, including LaVolpe, is suggesting that Mexico threw the game and it's almost certain that if the FMF wanted the team to lay down that LaVolpe's complicity would be required.

At the same time it's tough not to get the feeling that they felt winning this match, and thereby preventing Jack Warner from grossly enriching himself, was not in their best interests and further that this signal lack of enthusiasm for winning that night had an effect on the outcome of the game.

Which is - it has to be noted - very different from saying We don't much care about this game; we've already qualified".

Now, some people want to claim that there was indeed a quid-pro-quo, in the form of Mexico getting seeded in, but in point of fact they got there through a formula which, while attracting bitter complaints from the likes of Bruce Arena (they took into account the results of France 1998, where the US finished dead last; otherwise, the US would have gotten the seed), was at the least transparent and seemingly beyond even Warner's considerable control.

But that's hard to reconcile with Warner's angry attack on none other than Landon Donovan, who had simply told reporters that Mexico did not deserve the seed and that giving it to them based, in part, on results from eight years earlier was ridiculous.

Warner BLEW UP:

(rough translation; corrections welcome)

"Donovan is very young and very stupid, very stupid" he shot off immediately.

Warner decked out in an impeccable black coat and hat in the best Caponesque style, kept firing with his best artillery.

"Donovan does not have the experience to give an opinion. He's very young and very stupid. He's no sense of history of soccer, no background. He doesn't know anything. For me, it's a bunch of stupidity."

With unusual anger in his gestures and his voice, including trembling lips while he lambasted Landon Donovan.

"Donovan has been to the World Cup twice. He has no record in these tournaments, what has he done? Forget about him, and what he said. He's very stupid, OK? OK?", emphasized the President of CONCACAF.

He then added, rather cryptically:

"Mexico and my Confederation, we work united"

Which is, not coincidentally, how he reacts when someone opens a topic he doesn't want aired:

[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0puFaKUg56I"]YouTube - FIFA vice president Jack Warner refuses to answer questions at Zurich airport[/ame]

In short, Warner's reaction to LDo's comments seem, well, over the top. Why in the world would he care a lick what Landon said about the seed? Or Dan Loney or anybody else? What's it to him? Who cares?

Part of the answer lies in a very astute observation made not long ago by David Faitelson on ESPN Deportes:

"Jack Warner doesn't look at Mexico and see soccer, he looks at Mexico and sees dollars".

Which says it about as well as it can be put.

Now as it happens, both the US and Mexico want the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Jack Warner personally controls at least ten of the 12 votes any country will need to get the nod.

And when he gets done visiting the White House and having his picture taken with Barack Obama (who is only meeting him to express support for the US bid) so he can wave them around back home for political purposes, and he has to choose between a country with financial transparency, banking and funds transfer laws, (and paper trails) the IRS, the FBI, the SEC and a dozen other alphabet outfits, including the US Justice Department, and Mexico which, shall we say, doesn't quite have the same standards, along with a federation that, unlike the USSF, is eager to play ball with him:

Which way do you think he'll vote?