MARTIN SAMUEL: David Beckham must rule England's

World Cup 2018 bid

Forget Prince William. Forget Lord PleasedMan™. There is only one person who should be leading England’s World Cup bid from here: David Beckham.

He does not have to explore the logistics of hosting the tournament, he does not have to sit on committees or take meetings.

He does not even have to be there, most of the time. He just has to be the figurehead, the public face of England 2018, so that when people think of the World Cup coming to this country, they think of Beckham, not grasping careerist politicians, or over-promoted men in suits.

David Beckham

Smiles in front: David Beckham turns on the charm at the World Cup draw with Hollywood actress Charlize Theron

Beckham was magnificent in South Africa. He put in the hours, worked the room like a pro. He changed outfits three times on Friday, so he always looked sharp. He even turned up with a haircut like a Piccadilly postcard punk and pulled it off.

Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago has to take a cold shower at the mention of his name, Milan loves him, so too Madrid, not to mention his fans in the Far East. Even his move to America was a penalty shoot-out away from glory.

Whether Beckham deserves to be in South Africa as a player next summer is an entirely different matter, but as an ambassador for English football he has no equal. That the 2018 bid team were squabbling over who paid his air fare shows how clueless they are.

Beckham gives English football star quality, a wow factor that it has not previously possessed. Single-handedly in Cape Town, he transformed the World Cup bid from a running joke to a campaign that is now reinvigorated in the eyes of its rivals and the public.

And he did it just by turning up. In a matter of days, the bid lost Sir Dave Richards and gained a genuine superstar. No bad swap.

Now it needs to lose the other dead wood, PleasedMan™, at least from the front line.
England has found the man to win it the 2018 World Cup and it does not matter if he
subsequently decamps to a villa in Italy for the rest of the season, provided he remains the visible face of the bid on prestige occasions.

Tailor these to his diary if needs be and leave the workers to consider the practicalities of Plymouth versus Nottingham and how 30 privatised rail companies are supposed to synchronise, subsidise and improve their services.

When Prince William was being talked up as bid chairman, nobody seriously thought he was going to lie awake in the small hours figuring out whether Sunderland had sufficient hotel accommodation.

Of course, Beckham has his detractors. Yes, it is irritating when he warms up at Wembley and the crowd react as if it is the event of the night.

Yes, he does benefit from the modern obsession with fame, and has put it to great personal use. That is the point, really.

For too long, while Germany sent Franz Beckenbauer into the room and France were represented by Michel Platini, the best England has been able to offer is the former chairman of the Sheffield and Hallamshire Football Association.

Geoff Thompson may be a respected figure within UEFA and FIFA, but nobody is going to ask him to trade flirtatious glances with Charlize Theron for the watching television audience.

Beckham knows football, and football knows Beckham. And so does everybody else. If England’s bid team cannot turn this great fortune to its advantage, it should not be trusted with a whist drive, let alone a World Cup.

Sepp Blatter

It was a fine week for fair play in Cape Town. FIFA, the governing body that arbitrarily seeded the World Cup play-off games when some of the bigger European nations were struggling to qualify, randomly seeded the World Cup draw using rankings from October because that way the top level did not include pantomime villains France.

Sepp Blatter (right), the FIFA president, is also hinting that Thierry Henry may be suspended from the World Cup for what was a yellow card handball offence, basically because a big fuss has been made about it. He was a lawyer, you know. God help us.


The irresistible, and widespread, logic is that England’s World Cup campaign ends at the semi-final stage against Brazil in Cape Town on July 6, with the winners meeting Spain in the final. Here is an alternative. Brazil, faced with Portugal and the Ivory Coast in Group G, are sucked into the mother of all tear-ups and fail to secure top spot. They then play Spain, as winners of Group H, in Cape Town in a last-16 match on June 29 and England happily avoid both until the final. It is a long shot, and this is not in any way an invitation to donate to Ladbrokes, but stranger things have happened.


So much for the Platini Euro plan

And so another great scheme from Michel Platini reaches its inevitable conclusion. You may recall that the UEFA president changed the qualification process for the Champions League to allow a greater number of weaker champions from smaller nations to participate.

Platini did not spy that in a minor league, giving a single club money well in excess of that generated by its rivals would have a potentially disastrous effect on domestic competition, but the effects of that little joust with idiocy will only be properly felt when the windfall kicks in next season.

In the short term, though, how did Platini’s ploy work out? Not too well, sadly. Maccabi Haifa of Israel lost five games straight in Group A and are still to score a goal. FC Zurich of Switzerland beat AC Milan away, but these were the only points they collected
in Group C and they will finish bottom of the group, whatever happens in their final game.

APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus are also bottom and without a win in Group D, while Debrecen of Hungary have lost all five Group E games, conceding 15 goals in the process.

So credit is due to Olympiakos of Greece, who need a draw at home to Arsenal to reach the last 16. The problem is, Olympiakos would no doubt have qualified under the old system anyway as they have done every season since 1997-98, bar one, 2008-09, when they were knocked out in the third qualifying round by Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus.

Take Olympiakos away and Platini’s gifts to the competition have played 20 games, won one, drawn two, lost 17, scored 11 goals and conceded 40. Now we move to stage two where these clubs are delivered a sack of cash which, invested wisely, will buy their domestic title next season.

This, and the introduction of two extra useless assistant referees in the moribund Europa Cup, all from the mind of one man. How does he do it?


Subbing delays a disaster for Zola

Now that a Premier League substitutes’ bench competes with the civil service for personnel numbers, why do managers keep injured or seriously unwell players on?

At Upton Park on Saturday, Zavon Hines signalled to Gianfranco Zola, the West Ham United manager, that he could not continue five minutes before half-time.

Zavon Hines

Immobile: Zavon Hines

Moments earlier, a hugely stretched Manchester United had lost Gary Neville and were reduced to playing Michael Carrick at centre half. It seemed madness to continue with an immobile striker even for a minute - West Ham were as good as down to 10 men, and were losing the chance to get at Carrick cold - but, no, Zola insisted Hines remained.

He failed to collect a lovely through-ball in that time and West Ham’s fit players appeared distracted, sending messages to the bench that Hines had to be replaced.

In that period of confusion, Manchester United scored. Hines did not play the second 45 minutes. So what was the point?

Then, early in the second half, Robert Green, the West Ham goalkeeper, began throwing up. He must have been sick half a dozen times in and around the penalty area and was standing on the edge of his six-yard box, bent double, hands on his knees. He looked greyer than his shirt.

Did Zola act? No, he let the score drift from 1-0 to 4-0, and then replaced his goalkeeper. Compare this to Manchester United, who turned up with three fit defenders, lost Neville to injury after 30 minutes, but even in the matter of seconds they allowed play to progress before his replacement was ready, they rearranged the team so that he was out of harm’s way.

This is Zola’s first job in management and he is still learning. It is a hell of a place to figure it out, 17th in the Premier League, one point off the relegation places.

From the manager to his young team, West Ham have that famous academy look right now; just not a particularly good one. Sell any experienced player in the transfer window and they will be doomed, for sure.


No doubt it is true that the recession has bitten hard at Manchester United. Partizan Belgrade president Dragan Djuric suggested as much following the collapse of Adem Ljajic’s £10million transfer, although his club is in greater crisis and signalling that more players will have to be sold in January’s transfer window.

Bayern Munich, apparently, also concluded that Manchester United were struggling when they asked £60m for Franck Ribery in the summer and heard nothing more.

In the case of Ribery, however, the explanation could be simply that he was over-rated, over-priced and the fee was always going to fall dramatically once Munich realised greed had cost them the opportunity to sell at a high, yet fair, figure; which is exactly what has happened.

Emmanuel Adebayor

Further to last week’s column about Manchester City’s failings in front of goal, it would appear there is a correlation between the most expensive striker in the history of British football not scoring a League goal for two months and City not winning a match in that time, and him scoring again and City winning. Who would have thought it?

Hard work is very noble, but goals are the currency of a striker’s day. If Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor (right) dry up again, so will City. Goalscorers command the bigger transfer fees because they shoulder the greatest responsibility. It is as simple as that.


Neil Warnock, the Crystal Palace manager, told the world how his players had pulled together on being informed Simon Jordan, the chairman, had a temporary cash flow problem and could not pay their salaries.

Warnock broke the news after last week’s 3-0 win over Watford, Palace’s sixth game unbeaten. 'Usually players have a moan, but at Palace there has been a real sense of the Blitz spirit,’ said Warnock.

Saturday’s result: Crystal Palace 0 Doncaster Rovers 3. Oh dear, a Doodlebug.


Portsmouth could not pay their wages again. Sulaiman Al Fahim, the clown who had to be bailed out by the present owner, Ali Al Faraj, was incensed. ‘As a shareholder,
I want to know who he is and what plans he has for the club,’ he said. The time to ask that, old son, was before you so desperately sold him your shares.



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