Thursday 21 August ~
Georgia seems to have launched its ill-fated campaign in South Ossetia on the assumption that the world’s attention would be distracted by the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. Last night England’s friendly with the Czech Republic provided the backdrop for some political intrigue at the Football Association, whose chairman Brian Barwick announced that he was stepping down a few hours before the match kicked off. He wasn’t able to avoid attending the game, however, where England received the voluble abuse from the crowd that has swiftly become a tradition at the new Wembley.
The national stadium will be presented as Barwick’s main legacy. It ran hugely over budget and many people didn’t believe that it was needed at all but work was well underway before the departing chief executive took on his job. Barwick, a former head of sport at both major terrestrial channels, also negotiated the FA’s latest TV deal, worth £425 million. But given the colossal amounts of money hurled at football by the various networks in recent years even a trained chimp could have sorted that out. One might also wonder whether an executive committee of zoo animals might have made a better job of selecting a replacement for Sven-Göran Eriksson as England manager in 2006 when Sven’s erstwhile assistant finally got the nod because the FA chairman and his colleagues messed up an approach to Big Phil Scolari. As the Guardian put it today, in a headline recalling the grisly fate of the Ancient Mariner: Barwick will leave with the McClaren millstone around his neck.
Clearly Barwick has been prised out by FA’s chairman Lord Triesman, a former Communist turned businessman ennobled by New Labour. Since the latter was appointed in January the two have clashed over their respective responsibilities and it is known that Triesman did not want Barwick to lead England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup. No one outside Soho Square will give a damn about this for several years yet, but with the national team’s international standing receding with every passing year, the FA are understandably desperate for their bid to succeed.
The hot tip to succeed Barwick is David Gill, chief executive of Manchester United, a man who was known to be an early and ardent supporter of the Premier League’s Game 39 plan before it got shot down in flames. In recent times he has been a corporate lapdog, initially opposed to the Glazers’ approach to take over his club, then scurrying to back them when it became clear that they would succeed. But he will have a much more substantial contact book than fusty Brian Barwick. And that’s what we need, going forward.