The Nuclear Option and US Soccer's European Future

Back in January a rag-tag collection of well-meaning but entirely irrelevant people held a widely publicized conference the premise of which was that FIFA needs to be (choose one: reformed, replaced, machine gunned in the streets like the curs they are).

The assembled politicians, journalists, professional reformers (where does one go to get that particular job, anyway?) and various gasbags (sorry: BigSoccer's travel budget wouldn't cover business class to Paris), well meaning though they might have been, spent a few days venting their spleens and taking the waters but accomplished nothing.

Not one of the candidates for Sepp's job showed up, despite fulsome personal invitations which bordered on abject begging. Not a single player, agent or federation official stopped by either, partly because this would be duly noted by Sepp Blatter's fixers, but mostly because if they were in the market for bad comedy they could likely find it much closer to home.

Afterwards, the organizers announced that it had all been a huge success, taking the line that "a good beginning" was made towards the goal of straightening out international football. No word is available on whether Blatter, ensconced in his private dining room in Zurich enjoying the offerings of his private chef - Souls a la Warner is a specialty - laughed out loud.

 

This latter day version of the Beer Hall Putsch having been less successful than the original - these guys couldn't even get arrested - all eyes are now shifting to Doha, Qatar where, early next week, the FIFA Scheduling Committee will finalize the dates for the 2022 World Cup.

There, after months of deep consideration and working out the bribes for their broadcast partners, they'll be making a fateful decision which, depending on UEFA's reaction, could launch a chain of events which will end up bringing down Sepp Blatter's embarrassing tenure at the helm of FIFA.

They're calling it The Nuclear Option

Despite a late boomlet in favor of a late Spring tournament - something like April/May - the choice is between November/December and January/February, and since the IOC is already beyond livid at even the suggestion that FIFA might be planning to step on their festival of sledding, skating and schussing, most observers have long considered the former almost a certainty.

At which point Europe officially has a scheduling problem. How do you shut down the biggest soccer leagues, with the biggest stars and the biggest commercial and broadcast contracts in the world, for a couple months so that Sepp Blatter's openly corrupt Qatar deal can play out?

Particularly when everyone knows that 75% of the players, and the guys who make this whole thing so financially rewarding, are European league stars. In other words, their products.

This is the conflict which Blatter is exploiting for political purposes; the great divide between the haves and have nots. "Give me your votes" he tells Outer Mongolia and Swaziland and Anguilla and Montserrat and Papua New Guinea, "and in return I'll force those evil, greedy Europeans to give me (us) their players so we can make a ton of money which I'll happily pass along to you in return for your vote next time".

It's called the World Cup. It's more than a Golden Goose, it's, like, a flock of Golden Geese that blocks out the sun and Sepp Blatter owns it.

But suppose he didn't.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that UEFA decided to expand the Euros to include some "invitees" along the lines of CONMEBOL asking in a couple CONCACAF sides. Nothing says they can't.

The USA. Mexico. Brazil. Argentine. Australia. Japan. Korea. Ghana. Pick a few more. Play with the names.

(The Aussies, we should note, are in a foul temper anyway; the AFC is throwing them out to stop them from grabbing one of their World Cup slots every year. So they're going to go back to Oceania. Unless we can figure out how to get them into CONCACAF. That would be fun)

Bring them into the initial rounds or wait until the round of 16 and set up another series of groups or slot them in wherever you like. Make up your own scenario. Doesn't matter.

(Interestingly, it's being reported that some officials at USSF are unhappy with Sunil Gulati endorsing one of Blatter's rival candidates. They're worried that it may put US 2026 in jeopardy. But what if Gulati is already two moves ahead. Just saying.)

The point is that in one fell swoop you've created a competing event which can pick and choose the best markets in the world to come play in a European time zone event and tell everybody else to buy a ticket.

The only losers would be all the federations who suddenly aren't getting a cut.

Best of all, they can say they're doing it not to cut out the little guys but because FIFA, as everybody knows, is so corrupt. They might even start handing out money to smaller nations for football projects that would actually get built instead of having the money vanish into the pockets of local officials.

Sepp's power comes from the money. If he can't guarantee the money will be there in ever increasing waves, then they're not going to vote for him based on his charm and good looks.

So maybe Europe cuts a deal with the CAF and AFC: help us replace Blatter and we promise that your income streams will continue unabated. In fact, if we can cut down on the whopping $200 million a year Sepp spends on "administration" (not including the $150 million in salaries alone) you might even end up pocketing more.

Or, you can re elect Blatter and see if we're really just making an idle threat here.

Point being, as long as all the power in the footballing world emanates from the FIFA General Congress, the major footballing powers will be at the mercy of whatever extortionist - Blatter won't live forever, but the system will remain the same - 150 or so small federations choose to elect. Europe's role is to make the money and then shut up.

Europe has gone along with it for years and aren't necessarily opposed to it continuing, but the stench of Sepp Blatter is so overwhelming that they may finally be willing to do whatever they feel they have to.

If shutting down the European leagues for two months is the price they have to pay for dumping Sepp, they'll likely make the deal.

Otherwise, it could get very interesting.