Football – In Tact as Ever (Part Two)

By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 19th 2015)

Shenanigans

The BBCʼs Dan Roan alludes to how offended the Premier League will be by all these shenanigans to host the World Cup in the winter in Qatar to avoid the searing heat of an Arabic summer. That is most odd. English football is all about the Premier League. Clubs are either in the Premier League or aspire to be in it.

Those seeking to give the lie to this will claim that the Championship play-off final is the ʻrichest game in footballʼ … by dint, oddly enough, of the winner being ushered into the Premier League. Should football fans, globally, take umbrage at how the machinations of the Premier League, itself – something of a tyrantsʼ charter – have been upset and knocked marginally out of kilter by the decision to host the 2022 World Cup during the Winter months?

Roanʼs assertion that the FA might be upset as it may interrupt some ceremonially flavoured FA Cup programme – 2022 is the centenary of the Final at Wembley Stadium – is laughable. This presentation of the FA Cup as some Holy of Holies sits uncomfortably with how the event has been policed and how its attendees have been treated – Hillsborough, for example.

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Uncomfortable

It sits uncomfortably with how managers and players treat it. It sits uncomfortably with the stark reality of attendances at FA Cup games with certain clubs, at even advanced stages of the Cup. If it is important, why is it being treated as an after-thought, especially by the big clubs and the prize of qualification for the Europa League being seen as a unwanted burden, even though for some clubs, it is the only possibility of Champions League football.

Take Hull City for example. A lacklustre approach to it saw them dumped out without even reaching the League stage. This in the year that the winner of the Europa League gets into the Championsʼ League. Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool dropped out in the last 32. Only Everton still fly the flag.

Disproportionate Effects?

If Roan is so concerned that the effect of hosting WC 2022 in the Winter Months will have a disproportionately negative effect on the ʻSmaller Clubsʼ, he would do well to look at how the same ʻSmaller Clubsʼ themselves treat the FA Cup, and how the FA Cup treats them. Name the last non-top flight Club to win the FA Cup?

Southampton, 1976. The last 10 winners are Arsenal, Wigan, Chelsea, Manchester City, Chelsea, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal. Who owns those clubs? Portsmouth at the time of their winning the FA Cup in 2008 were owned by Alexander Gaydamak. He had bought the club from Milan Mandarić who was subsequently charged with tax-evasion.

Gaydamak then sold the club to Sulaiman al-Fahim who had acted as spokesperson for Mansour al-Nahyan and smoothed al-Nahyanʼs takeover of Manchester City. Al-Fahim in turn sold the club six weeks later to Ali al-Faraj, a supposed Saudi oil tycoon. Portsmouth went to rack and ruin and who paid the price? The loyal supporters who were the backbone of the club and who ultimately saved the historic club.

By 2013, Portsmouth FC had finally returned to the ownership of the fans themselves, with the club having been bankrupted, relegated three times and almost forced out of existence in the intervening period. But we must keep an eye out for FIFA, it seems.

Fit and Proper

Anybody can own an English football club. They are for sale every day of the week on whatever index you choose to consult. They are open to bids from everyone, irrespective of their morals, their achievements, their politics, their ethics, or the pedigree of their finances. They are not even the Harrods of their time, for which a purchase price AND favour had to be first agreed. Who buys these clubs?

The best known example is everyoneʼs favourite ʻBillionaire from Nowhereʼ, Roman Abramovich – a long-time associate of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich rose from nothing to dominate the Russian aluminium and gas sector, after being the understudy of Boris Beresovsky who was subsequently found dead at home in March 2013 soon after a protracted legal battle with Abramovich ended badly for Beresovsky.

Other noted humanists such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Tom Hicks, George Gillette, Mike Ashley, Vincent Tan, Venkatesh Rao, the al-Mubaraks, Alisher Usmanov and the aforementioned al-Fahims, Gaydamaks, al-Farajs, Mandarićs, etc. either own outright, have owned outright, possess, or have had strong financial interests in various English clubs.

Chicken factories. Bangladeshi sweatshops. Human rights abusers. Leveraged buyout merchants. Corporate raiders. Oligarchs. Oil tycoons. Silicon valley entrepreneurs. Eastern-Bloc businessmen. But look out for FIFA.

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Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United has used his position to try take advantage of the collapse of Glasgow Rangers such that Rangers was in danger of becoming a satellite club of Newcastle United. But look out for FIFA.

Universal Problem

This is not alone an English problem. Perspective is loaned to the matter when one considers that Real Madrid have agreed a £350m deal with a construction company owned by a member of the family that owns Manchester City. These clubs are supposedly in competition. They are instead each otherʼs keepers. This is supposedly the football that we should be worried will be ʻtorn apartʼ by a tournament being hosted in the Winter months – a tournament 7 years now.

No self-respecting journalist capable of even the slightest abstract thought could possibly find themselves offended uniquely by FIFAʼs alleged corruption juxtaposed as it is against the backdrop painted above. A brief examination of those invited to do business in England, and fêted for doing same, says a lot about this. 

England held its nose and took its reluctant place at the trough in the run up to the decision to award the World Cups for 2018 and 2022 respectively. Had England walked away early-doors and refused to have anything to do with the selection process, then we might have avoided the entire saga. Instead, the tit-for-tat will continue, presumably up and until such a stage as England is awarded a World Cup to host.

And letʼs remember that three-times beaten finalists the Netherlands have never hosted the World Cup, let alone suffered a long delay waiting for it to return. Isnʼt it their turn first?

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Football – In Tact as Ever (Part One)

by Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 4th 2015)

Hmmm!

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Qatar 2022: World Cup fall-out could tear football apart …” – Dan Roan BBC Sports-editor

If they donʼt believe it, why are they saying it, if they do believe it, they shouldnʼt be soccer analysts, so one way or another, they are wrong. Sometimes when you see these clowns…..well, then, you would have to wonder not about my sanity, but the BBCʼs sanity …”

The latter quote was made by the Former Manchester United and Milwall player, Eamon Dunphy, reflecting on BBC Match-of-The-Day Pundits during the 2006/2007 Premier League Season. So where does this leave us?

Weʼve been here before. Either the BBC donʼt believe what they are broadcasting or publishing, or they have gone mad. If they do believe it, they arenʼt fit for purpose, that purpose being to follow their mission, ʻTo enrich peopleʼs lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertainʼ.

So, what is the BBC saying? In perfect keeping with the tone of their attack which commenced with gusto on December 2nd 2010, the BBC continue to react to every utterance by and announcement of FIFA with a contrary response which both finds fault with whatever pronouncement FIFA has offered whilst seeking to always remind the viewer/reader that FIFA is corrupt, is upsetting football, is racist, is out of touch, hates women, and is just generally no good.

The New Mission

The BBC is no opinion-piece merchant. Funded by the taxpayer, and with an explicit mission to ʻenrich, entertain and educateʼ, they appear capable only of one of above trifecta, namely entertainment. 

Entertaining their own opinion, entertaining the opinion of conventional wisdom, entertaining the opinion of whatever agenda must be pushed, foisted and promoted until the target audience is left in no two minds about how things are and how things must be. Regarding FIFA, they operate a one-size-fits-all policy, employing key words in their riposte, irrespective of what it is that FIFA may have said.

Roan doesnʼt run the BBC, and is merely an agent of same. He is however the sports-editor of the BBC News. Fresh from goading, rather than entertaining, informing or educating Liverpool fans during the protracted takeover of the club by Fenway Sports Group (then a Sports Correspondent) Roan now today finds himself charged with spearheading BBCʼs latest thrust against that perennial threat to Global Peace and Harmony – FIFA.

Knock, Knock, Knocking

The door of FIFA has been kicked, yet the rest of the rotten structure seems not at all close to crashing down. FIFA, the masters of largesse, have pushed out the boat in many quarters, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and now Russia and Qatar. This largesse has made them very popular, especially in Asia and Africa.

It is no surprise that these are confederations that have many votes, which comes in handy at election time. Carry Asia and Africa and simple arithmetic tells the result – a lesson some have not grasped. Sepp Blatter certainly understood it.

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FIFAʼs major product – the World Cup – is something nations compete with each other to host. Football is increasingly popular and is the dominant global sport. England wanted to host the 2018 World Cup and failed to get enough votes. The results were a national embarrassment. It was not a bad bid, but it was out of step with FIFAʼs intentions and also those of individual federations.

Ever since, we have been treated to a monologue on the ills of FIFA. We are now expected to believe that Football itself is on the very verge of destruction because FIFA has decided to host the 2022 World Cup during the ʻWinterʼ of that year.

What is Football?

Football? Torn Apart? What is football? What does somebody mean when they say ʻFootballʼ. Do they mean the ball itself? Football, the game or sport? Football, the TV slot? Football, the Industry? 

When Roan and the BBC opine that ʻFootball could be torn apartʼ, they think, or more accurately want us to think, that they are talking about football in the Global, organized grass-roots sense of the word.

Football associations, football clubs, jumpers-for-goalposts, Football tournaments, the very fabric of football itself, the very essence of the game, is at risk. Uncle Sepp is going to get us all. In fact, the BBC are are referring, perhaps blithely, to their own narrow, oblique view of what football is and what football is about. Football the business, football….our businessOur gameThe game we gave the WorldThis thing of ours. 

Outraged?

It is no great leap to suggest that their contrived outrage stems from a sense of loss, a sense of exclusion, that they are no longer running the show and are merely instead a bit part of an organization that pays them no heed.

Third-party private organizations are entitled to organize their events as they see fit. It is up to other parties how they respond to this. Jérôme Valcke, FIFAʼs General Secretary, has told people to “Get on with it”. BBC pundits Danny Mills and Phil Neville agree with Valcke, but Roan has responded by kicking and screaming. He could do worse than consider the sentiments of the aforementioned home-grown pundits and others who have asked candidly, “Whatʼs the problem”?

The problem is that certain people have a bee in their bonnet about FIFA and rather than express it, they prefer to engage in tangential oblique nonsense. Mr Roan wants the reader to consider how the Winter World Cup imposes on the ʻCherished Festive Fixture Programmeʼ. It is lovely alliteration. It is also terrible reason. This ʻFestive Fixture Programmeʼ is not in fact a programme as much as it is semi-organized chaos, itself the subject of no small perennial, year-round criticism by domestic parties, It is bemoaned and criticized by players and managers alike, all year, every year. It is not liked. It is due for reform.

Hedged Bets

The author has hedged his bets. Perhaps aware that the ʻfestive disruptionʼ claim was as tenuous as it was false, Roan claims that More international friendlies are almost certain to be sacrificed.”  But International Friendlies are themselves the bane of the very Premier League whose best interests Mr Roan says are being interfered with.

However, we know how important some of these international friendlies can be. Consider one in particular. England tried to do business with Jack Warner by travelling to Trinidad & Tobago for a nothing friendly in 2008 in order to court Warner into providing support in CONCACAF to vote for England to host the World Cup of 2018. It was a fiasco as extracts of Michael Garciaʼs report on corruption in FIFA show. FIFA gleefully released those extracts, which suggested that Warner et al received a quid pro quo from that ill-advised friendly.

After this match Warner was exposed as corrupt and quit FIFA, exposing some of his dealings with the very dubious former head of the USAʼs federation, Chuck Blazer. Warner has a history – he was caught selling his complimentary tickets for the 2006 World Cup. He paid it back and it was business as usual until Blazer, once Warnerʼs protégé, decided that his apprenticeship had lasted long enough and tried to oust Warner.

It is conveniently forgotten that the fall of Qatari football executive and once cheer-leader of Blatterʼs 1998 bid for the Presidency of FIFA, Mohamed bin Hammam, was originally expelled from FIFA due to his attempt to ʻbuyʼ Warnerʼs influence for his own Presidential bid – exposed by Blazer. The American is no whistle-blowing anti-corruption pioneer. Blazer was neck-high in Warnerʼs shenanigans. But Warner was targeted by England to help their World Cup bid. Does this not question their anti-corruption credentials?

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England now wants to talk about corruption, but what was the football reason for the 2008 fixture in the Caribbean? What did then England manager Fabio Capello gain or learn from it? Did Capello request that particular opponent and if so why? For FIFA, attack became the best form of defence – given an open goal by the FA.

Perhaps England would do well to hold her tongue. but they try to berate FIFAʼs corruption. The BBC was at least consistent. Andrew Jennings has highlighted FIFAʼs corruption issues long before it became fashionable to do so. The FA complained that the BBCʼs Panorama programmeʼs exposé of corruption in FIFA on the eve of the vote impacted negatively on Englandʼs doomed bid.

A cursory examination of recent events lends no small credence to the opinion that England should keep its counsel. England had hoped to host the 2018 World Cup which instead went to Russia – worse still the Russia of Putins, Abramovichs, Usmanovs and Berezovsksy, etc.

England was shocked – outraged even. They had after all run a ʻgreat campaignʼ, part of which had been courting the influence of Jack Warner. Their bid had been officially presented by Prince William, nephew of Prince Andrew, the former trade envoy who told the Serious Fraud Office to keep out of the British Aerospace deal with Saudi Arabia. Glass houses?

Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

Legacy

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Sepp Blatter’s Final Act

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Which is the most powerful office in the world? The office of the President of the United States. Wrong. The most powerful office in the world is the office of the President of FIFA. Right. Why? Because football is the most popular sport in the world and money – vast amounts of it – talks.

The FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter has thrown his hat into the ring for the 2015 FIFA Presidential election again despite his assurances that last time would be his swansong.

The only reason Blatter would disregard the consequences of setting aside his public declaration made on the eve of the last elections that he would not run for the office again, and dare to seek the office one more time is because he is confident he will win it. The early declared competitor Jérôme Champagne – eased or forced out FIFA five years ago has fallen by the wayside.

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UEFA have grumbled put its President Michel Platini refused to mount a challenge. David Ginola was never a credible challenger, so Blaterʼs confidence was not misplaced. It is simply the reality of the situation on ground. However, new contenders emerged. The first to declare was Jordanian Executive Committee member Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, followed by the President of the Dutch Federation Michael van Praag. Portuguese legend Luis Figo joined the race late, but has credibility. Blatter however remains confident. He knows that he has big support in Asian and African federations.

Unloved

Blatter knows that he will win not because the rest of the world loves him so dearly, or considers him indispensable, but because he seats atop the most powerful office on planet earth and will use the awesome power of that office (which he understands very well) and of his incumbency to check-mate all other contenders. Remember how he saw off the challenge of Mohammed bin Hammam. Where is the Qatari now?

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Americans donʼt talk about Chuck Blazer now, but that wasnʼt always the case. Blazer brought down bin Hammam and with him former CONCACAF leader Jack Warner – all of which suited Blatter. Bin Hammam was disgraced and thrown out of FIFA. He won that appeal after the damage was done and was brought down on new charges. Blazer faced his own troubles as Warner got even with his former protégé. Warner had to go as well. Not even the corruption charges laid against FIFA could shift Blatter. Even the report of Michael Garcia was so purged that the author disowned it! Not even that had any effect on Blatter.

Transparency and Integrity

He had served his apprenticeship and inherited the crown – he will not abdicate – even if his predecessor João Havelange had to sever his ties to FIFA after being implicated in a bribery scandal. He escaped prosecution partly due to his age. The former head of the Brazilian Federation Ricardo Teixeira was forced out after investigations in Brazil proved sufficient for criminal charges to be laid – a huge story that somehow vanished with barely a whimper.

Blatterʼs Argentinian ally Julio Grondona died soon after the World Cup. The corrupt former head of CONMEBOL Nicolás Leoz resigned ostensibly on health grounds. He too was named in corruption inquiries. One by one allies fell, but Blatter emerged unscathed. Even knowing of Havelangeʼs dubious activities made little difference. 

The product of such thinking is that even in the face of global rejection of fascism and totalitarianism as an acceptable system of governance, the world can do nothing about FIFA. President Blatter, at almost 80 years of age, four times already as President, knows that under normal ‘temperature and pressure’ he should not be seeking another term in office. 

Yet, but for the few ‘pretenders’ that have joined rather grudgingly the race, the world would be looking on hopelessly and helplessly, frustrated by the rules of engagement crafted in FIFA through the decades.

FIFA which holds football in trust for the entire world should be promoting best global practices in the promotion of global peace, friendship, equity, democracy, integrity, fair play and transparency. But here we are with a powerful office that bestows upon its occupier the perks and powers reminiscent of the darkest days of dictatorships in the world.

A Tarnished Legacy

It was not always so with Blatter. Given that Blatter has surely done a great deal more than any human alive for football in his four decades long romance with football, he should be the champion of the deepening of the tradition of true democratic practice that ensures that no office in the world today should have an unlimited term. FIFA runs a no-term limit for the office of its President. That should go.

Even the Presidency of the most powerful nation on earth, for good reason through past experiences, has a two-term limit. Anything longer than two terms in any office will breed dictatorship. The situation in FIFA has become a canker-worm trickling downwards through all levels of global football administration.

Local Football Councils, State and National Football Associations and Federations, and even the Confederations are taking a cue from the practice in FIFA, and self-perpetuation in office now has become the norm and dominates the administrative football landscape. Take CAF for example.

Trickle-down

Issa Hayatou has been President for almost 30 years. The rules have been changed several times through the decades to accommodate his self-succession plots. The last one was a rule that only members of the Executive Committee could contest for the CAF presidency. These are all members loyal to him because he helped them all to get there.

As his present tenure draws to an end, there are reports of moves already seeking another term in office for him, even though the present constitution of CAF forbids anyone above the age of 70 from holding the office. Hayatou is now 68. Using the awesome power of the President, the goal-posts are to be shifted and the age limit restriction will be removed to enable him to contest again, despite even his poor health.

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At National Federations level, from country to country, particularly in the Third World, attempts at self-perpetuation in office have become photocopies of the FIFA model. That’s why there is crisis when election times come. This practice must be stopped. For now, only Sepp Blatter can do it.

The statutes of FIFA and all its Confederations and Federations must be amended before he leaves office, so that a two-term limit for the Presidency of FIFA, as well as all its affiliate Federation and Confederation members, is introduced. This should be the Sepp Blatter’s final act and the legacy that he bequeaths to football and the world.

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Sepp Blatter and Issa Hayatou exchange pennants.

The Final Chapter

Segun at Wembley

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (February 15th 2015)

Afcon 2015 – New African Champions

After an exciting three weeks of pulsating but technically mediocre festival of football in Equatorial Guinea, the Elephants of la Côte d’Ivoire have become the new Champions of African football. They took the coveted trophy that was relinquished, rather humiliatingly, by Nigeria. The Super Eagles had exited at the qualifying stage of the championship.

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It may have taken well over 20 years for their trophy drought to end, but when it finally did the whole of Côte d’Ivoire exploded in an orgy of celebration as the government declared a national public holiday and lavishly rewarded the gallant heroes with houses and cash gifts. It was a far cry from the disgraceful treatment Ivorian players received from former dictator Robert Guéï after a poor performance in Afcon 2000.

History

The final match against Ghanaʼs Black Stars created razor-sharp pressure for both teams. Tactically, they cancelled each other out for 120 minutes and the match had to be settled by penalty kicks – again. That match marked the third time the Elephants played in the final of the Nations Cup and did not score a goal. It also marked the third time a final involving the Ivorians had gone to penalties.

The recourse to penalty kicks against these opponents historically favoured the Ivorians. In 1992 they won the championship for the first time against Ghana after a marathon penalty shoot-out that ended 11-10. They had tasted defeat in a penalty shoot-out too when Egypt won the first of their unprecedented three consecutive titles in 2006.

Two Sunday night’s ago the elements were on the side of Côte d’Ivoire once again, as ‘lightning struck twice on the same spot’. 

Ghana were left stranded on the banks of misfortune as they threw away an early two-goal lead, due to nerves, and lost 8-9 in the end, continuing a trophy drought that has lasted 33 years. The Black Stars have lost their last three finals, twice on penalties to the Ivorians and once to Egypt in 2010

Apart from the penalty shoot-out the final match was tension-soaked but technically ordinary and boring – a true reflection of the entire championship.

The Special Generation

Winning the championship was momentous for Côte d’Ivoire as it marked the end of an era for several of their ageing generation of players, some of whom have been among the best footballers in the history of African football. Between them, Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré have won the African player of the year award 7 times. Add to that other great players playing at a high level in Europe, including Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, and so on.

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It is unfortunate that Drogba chose to retire from international football on the eve of the championship. The victory would have capped a very illustrious and unprecedented career that had only the African Cup of Nations title as the missing trophy in his rich chest.

Scant Consolation

Overall, Ghana looked the slightly better and more organised team, even though Côte d’Ivoire were unbeaten did not lose any of their matches throughout the championship. However, the Ghanaians were the more entertaining team during the tournament. Consequently, it is not surprising that the player of the tournament came from the Ghanaian team.

Christian Atsu, currently on loan from Chelsea to Everton got more opportunities under Avram Grant than he has from José Mourinho or Roberto Martínez in England. The fleet, left-footed player operated from the right side of the Ghanaian attack, scoring two of Ghana’s three goals in the quarter-finals and constantly terrorised the Ivorian defence during the final. He deserved the award. He was a bright star in a very grey constellation.

Memories

Finally, the Championship will be remembered not for memorable matches but for other reasons: how the championship ended up in a country that did not even qualify for the championship and was under suspension by CAF; how the terraces were empty during most of the matches except those involving the host country; how Morocco were suspended (and rejected the suspension) for two tournaments for refusing to host the event due to genuine health fears; how Tunisia were suspended for failing to apologise for accusing CAF of bias and complicity when they were openly ‘robbed’ by a referee who only got a slap-on-the-wrist six-month suspension, for his shameful handling of the match in question; how supporters of the host country threw decorum to the dogs and unleashed mayhem on players and supporters of an opposing team with the shameful scenes watched on television all over the world; how both CAF and FIFA Presidents condemned the Western media for ‘exaggerating’ reports of the incidents that smeared the organization of the championship because they needed to make more friends than enemies amongst national federations with their elections coming, and so on.

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At the end of Afcon 2015, the championship simply could not produce or showcase the best version of African football as well as authentic new stars to illuminate African football into the immediate future. Letʼs hope that Afcon 2017 will supply both. The country that will host that tournament will be decided by CAF in April, following the withdrawal of Libya as hosts due to security concerns.

Next Time the Fire-power

Four countries that expressed an interest met CAFʼs conditions to host the tournament. Beaten finalists Ghana last hosted in 2008. They also hosted and won the tournament twice previously. The first time was in 1963 – the first appearance of the Black Stars in the tournament. That was the first of three triumphs under the legendary African coach Charles Kumi Gyamfi. Only Egyptʼs Hassan Shehata has matched him, although Hervé Renard has made history already and has power to add.

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The next time Ghana hosted and won was in 1978, the only victory of the Black Stars not under Gyamfiʼs supervision. Fred Osam Duodu was the successful coach. The most successful team in African history, the Pharaohs have won the trophy seven times. Egyptʼs last success – qualification too – was in 2010. They hosted and won in 2006.

Their fierce rivals the Desert Foxes of Algeria have only one title to their name. They hosted and won in 1990. That leaves Gabon. They have never won the trophy. Their best achievement was reaching the quarter-final twice, in 1996 when they went out on penalties to beaten finalists Tunisia and when they co-hosted in 2012. Gabon has never hosted in their own right.

Trending Analysis

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 30th 2015)

Geographic Trends

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Central Africa is represented by three countries – DR Congo, Congo and the hosts Equatorial Guinea. West Africa still has three countries as well – Ghana, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. North African countries have Tunisia and Algeria still in the race. On history and rankings Guinea and Equatorial Guinea stand little chance of bucking the trend.

The distribution of the teams speaks volumes. Central African countries, led by the two Congos are rising powers in African football. Even their performances at club level is indicative of this new momentum. On the other hand there is a decline in Southern and East Africa. West and North Africa are still maintaining their lead in Africa.

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Hosting Trends

But there is another trend to consider hosting being the twelfth man. Of the 29 editions so far the host has won the tournament eleven times, been beaten in the final twice – thrice if you include when Nigeria co-hosted in 2000. The host has failed to reached at least the semi-final 7.5 times out of 29 editions, although in the first three editions that was inevitable due to the number of participants. Traditionally the hosts progress.

Ethiopia was the first host to fail to reach the last four. That happened in the tenth edition in 1976. It happened again to Côte d’Ivoire in 1984. Eight years later Senegal went out in the quarter-finals. In 1994 Tunisia failed to get past the first phase of matches. Co-hosts Ghana went out in the quarter-finals in 2000 while their co-hosts Nigeria won the tournament. In 2010 Angola were eliminated in the quarter-final, which happened to both co-hosts, Angola and Equatorial Guinea too in 2012 and most recently to South Africa in the last edition.

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Equatorial Guinea only qualified as replacement hosts. They have never qualified on merit and they have a very low FIFA ranking. On paper and form they should have no chance, but barring Tunisiaʼs host and fail – there were no quarter-finals when Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire also failed in 1976 and 84 respectively – the hosts can be expected to reach the quarter-final at least and Equatorial Guinea has achieved that.

They have already met the hosting norm of progressing to the knock-out phase, but of 26 of 29 hosts achieved that. 21.5 of the hosts have reached at least the last four, so history is on the side of Equatorial Guinea and then there is Tunisiaʼs recent trend. The last three occasions they have reached the finals they exited at the quarter-final stage.

Home-field advantage may just be enough for Equatorial Guinea to make history while at the same time maintain tradition.

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Tatters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 10th 2015)

Reputation

Carlos Velasco Carballoʼs reputation may never recover. Having refereed against type at Fortalezaʼs Estádio Castelão in the controversial hackfest of Brasil v Colombia, Velasco Carballo was savaged by Diego Maradona and given FIFAʼs equivalent of a vote of confidence. FIFA refused to give Juan Camilo Zuñiga Mosquera a retrospective red card or rescind Thiago Silvaʼs yellow card.

Zuñiga should have been sent off, but so should several others. It was baffling that a referee with a reputation as a disciplinarian had refereed this match as if he had forgotten his cards in the dressing room. It is also a great pity as Velasco Carballo, contrary to Maradonaʼs opinion is actually a very good referee – one who had steadily earned the top matches with stellar performances. That reputation is all but undone by one match.

He officiated his first top flight match a decade ago – Barçelona v Sevilla. Velasco Carballo decided to concentrate exclusively on refereeing in 2010. He had quietly built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement.

Careful

He was a studious referee too – one who knew the foibles of those he was refereeing. Nobody pulled the wool over his eyes, so what happened to him on July 4th 2014? Did the occasion get to him? The refereeing of that match took some explaining then – it still does. There is no evidence that he was fazed by big occasions.

Velasco Carballo refereed his first international match in 2008 after earning the appropriate FIFA badge. The 2010-11 season was his first refereeing past the qualifiers for the Championʼs League. He ended that season with a high profile match – the Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

Falcao, who would strongly criticise Velasco Carballo over the match in Fortaleza, scored the only goal of that match. It was a match punctuated by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was typical Velasco Carballo. The native of Madrid is not allowed to referee any match involving Madrid teams, but his performance in that season marked him as one to watch.

Against His DNA

His performance in Fortaleza was incredible. There were 54 fouls in that match – well penalised ones. He brandished four yellow cards and no red cards. It required more than 40 offences bbefore he showed his first card and that was not for a violent challenge. There were also offences that were not penalised despite being under his nose (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

The failure to enforce the rules also contributed to a serious injury suffered by Neymar. Zuñiga ploughed into Neymarʼs back. Whether he intended serious injury or not is immaterial. It was a ludicrous challenge – one that would never have been tolerated, or most likely even tried, if Velasco Carballo had been allowed to referee as he normally would have.

Zuñiga quickly apologised. The players have no problem with each other, but anxious to reach the ball or not these are the challenges that must not be allowed or encouraged even tacitly, as lack of consequences does. When Brasil played Colombia in a friendly in the USA, they embraced each other, but that match was scarred by the quarter-final in Fortaleza – a dirty business. Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello was sent off.

Form

The Europa League Final was far from the only match that Velasco Carballo refereed in his strict manner. He has a habit of showing cards, including sending players off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed. He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012, refereeing the opening match between co-hosts Poland and Greece.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Polandʼs Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before being sent off he received his first yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”! He also sent off Polandʼs goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the same match.

So what happened in Fortaleza? Why had he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and done so on an even bigger stage? We are yet to get a satisfactory answer. Tolerating over forty offences before brandishing a single yellow card resulted in a display that was alien to the Spaniardʼs DNA.

And what of Velasco Carballo himself? FIFA say that there was no directive to referees to spare the rod and spoil the spectacle. But why would a stern referee officiate so against type? They also failed to take any sanction against the Spaniard for his bizarre performance that surely would have followed if it was all his fault. Would he return to form free from the ʻdirectiveʼ or was Fortaleza a taste of things to come?