CONCACAF: Sword Rattling

Early last week, when Chuck Blazer announced that CONCACAF was going to have to RETHINK THE QUALIFYING TOURNAMENT, most of the discussion, logically, centered around how it was going to be reconfigured and if you check around BigSoccer quite a few people nailed it.

I'm not nearly bright enough - or patient enough - to sit down and shuffle through all the possibilities, so I honestly didn't bother. And of course as it turns out the Hex is back, dos a cero lives, welcome to Columbus muchachos and all of that.

I will only note that Jagou WAS ON TOP OF IT long before most everyone else, which hasn't stopped a bunch of guys who don't know Spanish from Swedish from shamelessly stealing his scoop and not giving him credit. Welcome to the internet John.

I myself was much more focused on the rest of what Blazer was saying, namely that the ExCo decision denying CONCACAF the extra half a slot was "completely ludicrous" and complaining that "everyone was protecting their own interests rather than doing what was right".

Why it was almost as if Blazer was going off the reservation since the first rule of FIFA has always been "thou shalt not speak ill of FIFA".

What was even more surprising was his comment, seemingly apropos of nothing, regarding HOW CONCACAF IS GOING TO VOTE for the Presidency of FIFA:"

"We have by and large had a history of voting collectively, so each national association places its own vote but does it I think in what will be the best interest collectively of the confederation, depending on the discussions that we would have at that time"

The implication was veiled, but unmistakable: CONCACAF (ie. Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer) were seriously considering taking their 35 votes and walking out of the Blatter camp.

Blazer's comments were so out of character - he's made one hell of a career flying under the radar, no mean trick for a man the size of a minor planet - that a few days later he tried to WALK IT BACK A BIT:

"When it comes to football, your feeling is always based on passion....

"Even my own criticism last week regarding CONCACAF's number of teams in the 2014 World Cup came from passion. But we are a representative democracy...

"There are 24 people from all around the world on the FIFA exco and we represent a lot of different points of view. But, as far as I am concerned, you cannot get better than a representative democracy."

But Blazer has opened the door to the question of whether, in fact, CONCACAF's highly important - in act crucial - votes are in play for the June 1 election.

Which question may be about to become much more relevant, since AFC ExCo member and former staunch Blatter supporter Mohammad bin Hammam is SET TO MAKE AN ANNOUNCEMENT TOMORROW at AFC headquarters in Malaysia.

The wily bin Hammam is keeping his cards very close to his vest and except for some comments last week about how he would like to force Israel to make it easier for Palestinian players to get travel papers - a not particularly controversial position to take in the Arab world - he's said virtually nothing beyond some vague "FIFA needs some changes" comments which could mean almost anything.

The main reason he's been laying low on this so far is that his main support (read: money) comes from he Qatari royals and their main interest over the last year has been getting the 2022 World Cup. bin Hammams' ambitions had to take a back seat.

Now, with that consideration out of the way, the autocratic bin Hammam - reportedly all AFC employees live in mortal fear of his temper - is free to pursue what his heart clearly desires: the big chair in Zurich.

Which is not of course to say that he will go ahead and announce his candidacy tomorrow. As in all politics, it's going to come down to the math.

The fact of the matter is that it's very hard for anyone to get elected President of FIFA without the solid backing of his home confederation, and in this case Asia is pretty evenly split.

Not at all coincidentally, Sepp Blatter suddenly ran off this week on a previously unannounced whirlwind tour of the Asian sub-continent, with stops in such footballing Meccas as TIMOR-LESTE which you may not have been aware is an actual country but since their vote on June 1 will count every bit as much as Spains' or Argentinas' - talk about "completely ludicrous" - and of course, as FIFA itself proudly notes, Timor-Leste:

"...has already benefited from two Goal projects and a third is about to get underway. The first began in 2006 and involved the construction of the Timorese FA’s headquarters in Dili, an essential first step in the development of the country’s footballing infrastructure."

Because of course nothing benefits the development of footballing talent quite like plush office space for the guy in charge.

Also on his agenda is Myanmar where Blatter has managed to outrage international Human Rights groups by cozying up with the members of the brutal military junta which runs the place, including Brigadier General Zaw Zaw, a man described as "a business associate" of the uniformed thugs in charge.

Zaw is not only the President of the MFF but also - happy coincidence - owns the construction company which FIFA has given almost a million dollars in the last few years to build "training academies" and "standard football fields and stadiums" and which - another happy coincidence - just got a new contract to build yet another training academy.

This despite the fact that Zaw, like most of his Burmese military cronies, is under an international travel ban due to human rights abuses which keeps him out of the EU, the US and, well, pretty much anyplace else where they care about the niceties of law. (Swiss authorities, in an example of the righteousness for which they are so well known, say that FIFA business doesn't count since it's separate from Burmese government business, so Zaw can come to Zurich and vote).

But Blatter doesn't really mind it when Human Rights groups denounce him; until Amnesty International gets a vote in the FIFA Congress, they'll just have to pound sand.

Blatter is doing all this dictator ass-kissing and money-passing-arounding in Asia in a last-ditch effort aimed at undercutting bin Hammam's natural support base, an effort Andrew Jennings is describing as "a desperate election tour".

Now of course England is currently promising to vote for ANYONE BUT SEPPY (h/t to Pablo Chicago) and I'm sure they'd hold their nose and vote for bin Hammam in a heartbeat.

Then again, in the mood they're in they'd vote for Pol Pot, Satan or Paris Hilton. They just don't care.

How much that feeling is shared by the rest of Europe remains to be seen, although it's likely Michael Platini would prefer another four years of Blatter since he'd clearly like the job himself next time around since everyone assumes this will be Sepps Last Hurrah.

But shockingly, Blatter himself said just yesterday that MAYBE HE'S NOT DONE after this term, leaving open the question of whether FIFA would really re-elect a 79 year old for another four years.

He's saying only that 2010 is "possibly" his last go-round. God help us all.

Which brings us back to CONCACAF's 35 votes, which would seem to be the key: it's unlikely that anyone can get elected without them and the fact that Warner will vote all of them as a block - the US will meekly go along with whatever he tells us to do, just like Antigua and Barbuda - seems to cast The Pirate of the Caribbean in his customary role as kingmaker once again.

Are Jack and Chuck pissed off enough at the moment to work a deal with bin Hammam? It's impossible to say.

But if bin Hammam steps up to the microphone tomorrow in Malaysia and announces that he's a candidate it's a very good bet that it's because he thinks they are.

UPDATE: Reports are now coming out indicating that "sources close to bin Hammam" are saying that he will announce his candidacy tomorrow.

I'm guessing that the man can add, and I doubt he's doing it for the entertainment.

Sepp may be about to discover the main problem with buying yourself a bunch of friends, namely that they're always susceptible to a higher bidder.