31 May ~ Every corner of the media has offered a judgement on David Triesman's resignation as FA chairman and head of the 2018 World Cup bid team. It has been variously described as another careless self-inflicted injury by a member of the FA hierarchy or a gross breach of his privacy; a case of serious allegations of corruption that deserved to be made public or an act of desperation because there was no one in whom he could confide at FA headquarters; or a misguided act of romance and bravado from an older man. It is probably fairly judged as being a bit of all those things.
Much of the attention has focussed on the effect on the 2018 bid of Triesman's allegations of skulduggery by rival bidders Spain and Russia. Although clear that he could not continue as chairman of the bid team, the impact on the bid is more difficult to judge. The new chair of the bid team, Geoff Thompson, is a member of the FIFA executive, and some think that his links with UEFA and low-key style might actually strengthen the English bid. But more to the point, the final selection of 2018 host is more likely to be influenced by the usual combination of regional alliances, low politics and judgements of commercial benefits rather than an English peer's indiscretions.
Of more long term significance is the impact of Triesman's resignation on the FA's chances of re-establishing itself as the regulator of football. He was the first independent chairman of the FA, recruited in 2008 on a reform ticket to implement the recommendations of the Burns Report. That report called for the appointment of two independent non-executive directors to the FA's board to break the impasse between the grassroots game and the professional leagues. Initially, Triesman's appointment was greeted enthusiastically by the national game representatives. The new man was a Tottenham season-ticket holder, and appeared to show an understanding that there is much more to the game than the Premier League. Equally, he angered the professional clubs in general, and the Premier League in particular, by calling publicly for more intrusive regulation including salary caps, better control of debt and supporting a ban on the transfer of players under 18.
From the outside there was, disappointingly, very little evidence that Triesman pressed hard for the necessary changes in board membership. He appeared to have given up any serious attempt at reform when, in his response on behalf of the FA to the then government's “seven questions about football's future”, he deferred entirely to the views of the professional leagues. Supporters of reform were encouraged by the appointment of former civil servant Ian Watmore as FA chief executive but that too ended in disappointment with Watmore's resignation in March.
The FA comes in for plenty of criticism, but the risk is that with neither a permanent chairman nor chief executive there is a vacuum in leadership that will be filled by the professional game exerting even stronger influence over regulation. An FA whose role is limited to running the England team, the FA Cup and looking after the amateur game would go down well at Premier League HQ. Recruiting a new chairman could take months, with the emphasis likely to be on appointing a business leader from a "FTSE 250" company – which had been the original plan before Triesman was appointed. The only person to throw his hat into the ring so far is Alan Sugar. He, surprisingly, has some things in common with Triesman: both are life peers who have played a part in Labour administrations, foster ambitions to reform the FA and have links to Spurs. A crucial difference is that Sugar has been on the inside, and, with his famous impatience, would at least make an entertaining appointment for those of us on the outside. Brian Simpson