Matthew Monk


 
Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The Rick and Sepp show



    FIFA is probably the most pompous, self important and self-aggrandizing organisation in the world. UEFA is about the only competition it has in the self-importance stakes, but even they would baulk at the idea of a two hour draw-cum-cultural spectacular, presented to the world on a cold Saturday morning. Draws have to be made, but why do they have to take so long, and have a cast of thousands?

    It is not as if this was the first time FIFA had decided to present the draw in this way. On the contrary, as far back as 1982 in Spain this type of thing was being forced on our TV screens. The highlights that year were many - how about one of the revolving ball dispensers breaking, or the much highlighted need to keep the South American teams apart falling apart when someone picked out the Scottish and Belgian balls too early? There was a 'better' moment though. FIFA (quite rightly) makes much on these occasions of its valuable links with UNICEF and other charities by having local children at the draw. In Spain, orphans were on hand to help the 'celebrities' perform their arduous tasks. How touching it was then to see Hermann Neuburger, the West German representative, shouting at the child unlucky enough to be near him, and showing the caring, sharing side of football executives off to the whole world.

    Things got little better this year. The draw lasted barely 25 minutes, yet the show was filled out with nearly two hours of 'cultural' break after 'cultural' break, and some of the most inane dialogue ever heard. We started off with the Ode to Joy, anthem of the European Union, and utterly out of place in East Asia. At least all the Europeans would hear something familiar while they were eating breakfast.

    Next we met Christina and Rick. Had Christina not been wearing Korean national dress, we would have had no idea that they were representatives of Asia, so comfortably West Coast USA were their accents. Rick must have been hired for his good looks; it couldn't have been for his personality or presentation skills. He had two facial expressions - a half smile/sneer that appeared every few minutes (accompanied by a tiny clap) or utter bemusement. From time to time his voice came booming out across whatever was happening on stage, or he stole Christina's lines with some panache. Upstaging Mr Joseph S. Blatter at one of these events takes some doing, but Rick did it with style.

    We were introduced to the Secretary-General of the Female Suspender Appreciation Society (as Joseph S. is better known) quite early. We were promised celebrities. We got Sepp and his World Cup All Stars, (sorry the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002 TM, sponsored by McDonalds, Adidas, Coca Cola, Trevor's Barbeque Beans Inc., etc - to give it its full and proper name - All Stars) or six mayors and football Executives. Christina demanded applause, and even had to remind Sepp to stand up to milk the adulation. Sat next to him, Lennart Johansson was already asleep.

    We next saw Sepp after some more 'culture' when he came on to give a speech. FIFA had obviously been employing a design guru - Sepp was wearing an in-ear microphone just like Jennifer Lopez! Now just when it looked as if he was about to freestyle all over the stage, he pulled twenty bent cards out of his pocket and started to ramble. After reminding us that we were in Asia, and that the World Cup was a football tournament, he stopped. Rick saw his chance, and started linking the next 'culture break'. Sepp span round and shot him the icy glare that only a middle-aged Swiss businessman can and continued the monologue.

    Five minutes later the World Cup itself was brought on the stage and the sycophantic Executives accompanying it (remember, Zidane may have won it on the field, but it really belongs to twenty old men in Zurich) lavished Sepp with praise. Bizarrely, all the Executives were wearing in-ear microphones, and there was not an autocue to be seen on the stage - they all had bent cards that they mumbled into without looking at the camera for more than 15 seconds at a time. The sycophancy continued when the head of the Korean FA told Sepp that his speech was 'very good'. Sepp ignored him.

    Finally, after almost one and a quarter hours we got to the draw. A new name was introduced to the increasingly bewildered public next: Michel Zen-Ruffinen. Sepp is our usual host at these events, and he performs with the authority of a very weak bank manager. Zen-Ruffinen took no rubbish from anyone, and even brought some humour to the show. Only eight years ago Robin Williams had ridiculed Sepp (calling him Mr Bladder, and mocking the white gloves he had been instructed to wear), but had anyone messed with Michel, he would have probably hit them.

    Still, Rick and Christina had to interfere. The usual bunch of Executives and has-beens were brought out to complete the draw. I am sure that the female referee, actress and mountaineer must be very famous in Korea and Japan, but why were they here? Next, on came Johan Croooff and Pay-Lay, as Rick decided they were to be called. Pele was banned from the 1994 and 1998 draws, as Joao Havelange 'punished his wayward son' for daring to criticise the corrupt Brazilian FA. However, now Havelange had gone and Pele had been corrupted by his spell in Brazilian politics and as spokesman for MasterCard, the second greatest player of all time was back. Rick lied to us next; he claimed that Pay-Lay had been voted the best player of the Twentieth Century in the FIFA poll two years ago. As everyone should know that honour went to Diego Armando Maradona by a huge margin, and so scared was FIFA that the un avowedly left-wing friend of Fidel Castro and genius would give the wrong image to Coca Cola or McDonalds, that they invented a new award for Pele.

    Zen-Ruffinen managed to conduct the draw with wit and almost brought some suspense to proceedings. FIFA are obsessed with making everything as complicated as is possible. Why seed the nations so tightly when they are supposed to be the best 32 teams on the planet? If Brazil are to win their 'Penta ' they will need to beat France, England, Argentina or Italy anyway, so why not have a blind draw and let them meet in the first round?

    Then just when sanity appeared to be winning through, Rick and Christina came back to haunt us. Presumably because someone had to wake up Lennart Johansson, or Sepp had to go breakdancing or something, we had to have a break between the first and second parts of the draw and Anastasia was going to sing the Official FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002 TM theme song! First though, Christina interviewed Rick! He likes to dance! He likes football! He thinks Anastasia is sexy! He is even less interesting when talking about himself than when mumbling links! Thankfully, Zen-Ruffinen was soon back and he brought Michel Platini with him.

    Platini is desperate to be the next FIFA President, and lurks around Sepp and the Executives at every opportunity. Rumours persist that UEFA are determined to stop him, even though Lennart Johansson has already decided that Sepp (and Platini) can have another four years in charge. At the draw though, Platini played the role of soothsayer, predicting Nigeria would join Argentina, England and Sweden in Group F rather too accurately. FIFA go to great lengths to suggest that the draw is fair and honest, but would you trust Sepp and the Executives?

    Then it was all over. Zen-Ruffinen promised interviews with 'experts' to follow (probably Rick and the mountaineer) but the BBC mercifully pulled the plug on the coverage, and left Rick demanding the audience show some respect to the organisers. Seven months to go, and already it seems to be all too much.


 

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