Saturday 22 April 2023

You Gotta Have FIFA FIFA FIFA!

 So what gets FIFA president, Gianni Infantino out of bed in the mornings? Well, firstly it’s the person he shares it with, Gianni propelled daily from the XXXL mattress by his gay or disabled soulmate so that they can summon up their bit on the side via speed dial or swipe right, or whatever route it takes these days to get your non-financial needs met. 

With Gianni’s partner seemingly satisfied just by being associated with him, and the household chores looked after by one of the spare migrants picked up in Qatar, he is free to abandon all defensive duties and concentrate on his rolling mission to heal football for all. Gianni has no reason to challenge the bronzed hunk asking to enter the house as he leaves it, it’s just the undercover psychologist his partner thinks they’ve secretly employed to help acclimatise to living with a genius. Gianni gives the man a knowing wink as they cross paths. 

Gianni has heard that some people think Gianni Infantino is short-sighted in his views, but they (or He or She, hah!) don’t know that as he is walking to his Ferrari 250 GTO, he is mapping out the finer details of introducing cheerleaders during breaks in play. And not just the cheerleaders you might think He/him is thinking of, but male variants too. After all, if it turns out a woman can kick a ball, it must follow that a man can shake a pom pom. And let’s not dis-count the They contingent. Please don’t do that. Inclusion for All in the marketplace. 

Gianni’s head-lab (or to us mere mortals, brain), is both a blessing and a curse. He is burdened at times by the relentlessness of the schemes and ideas that fly up and down the wings of that lab, pressing and counter-pressing him until he is forced to mind-shute them away, the tips of his fingers planted against each side of that Lex Luther-like head in a ritual of unavoidable execution. Little wonder he has forged such strong links with Saudi Arabia. 

The ‘controversy’ over Saudi Arabia upsets Gianni deeply. The backlash over their chivalrous offer to sponsor the Women’s World Cup this summer is incomprehensible to him. Surely their interest proves they have respect for the fairer sex?! Plus, every World Cup needs the big names - and there’s none bigger, or longer, than Saudi ones! 

Gianni remembers 2018, and what a hit the Russian World Cup was. You don’t get a bigger character than Vladdy; larger than life itself. His influence drove that tournament up another level. Gave the gig a special aura. The players felt it, the fans felt it, and they have important roles to play in FIFA’s success; commodities that have to be managed and monitored. Gianni gets some stick for his choices of World Cup hosts, but he can’t think of one negative outcome from the tournament being held in Russia. All those do-gooders and their obsession with rights. Well, Gianni knows he has the right to produce a special World Cup. He is aware that Putin is getting some bad press at the moment, but when it all dies down, an invitation to join FIFA will be in the post. The Ukrainians might kick off a bit, but Gianni will play peacemaker (again!) and offer them an extra place in the 2030 Club World Cup, which, if all goes to plan, should be up to 64 teams by then.

Virtue-signalling is Gianni’s biggest problem in his mission to grow the game. It can only ever be about growth, otherwise you shrink, wither away. Gianni knows the value of enlargement, and the boost you need to get there. Yet the naysayers want to cut off the blood supply. ‘Oh, you can’t play this there, you can’t ban that.’ Jesus, the fuss they made when dear old Sepp made that little remark about women players needing to wear tighter shorts to spark interest in the game! Well, who exactly was complaining when that Englishwoman took her top off, swinging it around her head, when she scored that goal in the European thing? I didn’t see anyone rushing on to cover her up. And yet we’re not allowed to have a laugh about them swapping shirts at full time. Hypocrites the world over! 

But it’s a world Gianni knows he has to tread carefully in, because after all, he owns it. He takes it more seriously than anyone can ever imagine. Just look at all the thoughts and reflections inflicted upon him this morning, and then consider that he hasn’t even reached the driveway yet. The FIFA headquarters are still twenty minutes away. Gianni’s driveway is a 4G pitch, so actually about twenty one. He checks himself in the window of the Ferrari 250 GTO, assures himself that the navy blue suit and white trainers compliment each other perfectly. EarPods in, another day of reckoning awaits. 

Sunday 2 April 2023

The double-edged sword of self-improvement

Back in 2004, a friend of mine responded incredulously to the news that I’d been in a relationship for five years but wasn’t married yet. He asked a rather personal question after, and I felt judged and exposed. 

Was the problem mine or his? Had he touched a nerve, highlighted an area in my life that I needed to change? Knowing him as I did, his questioning would have come from  a kind place, but my feelings told me to be offended by the inference regarding the state of my relationship rather than spring into action to forge a better life. 

Circumstances, rather than my friend’s directness, ensured that we would drift apart, and when we met again last December, it was the first time in over a decade. Even then, after the smiles and the hug, he had a good-faith withering statement for me:

“So you didn’t become a journalist then?”

I don’t recall airing this as an ambition, although I had shown him some of my writing, which I was hopeful of turning into a book. Nevertheless, I could live with the career-based judgement, seeing as I agreed with it. 

I wrote match reports and player articles as part of a club fanzine for all the Sunday League teams I played for. Before a match in 97- 98, a team mate said I should be writing for Maxim or FHM, a remark that distracted me for a large part of the first half, my mind elsewhere from the thing I loved to do the most, suggesting that maybe writing was actually the thing I loved to do the most. 

My tools for self-improvement set me up with a move to a better football team for next season, bringing trophies and new friends, while my work life continued to drift, delivering no purpose beyond a salary. In fairness, I did cut my full-time drudgery in the hotel industry to go part-time in a sorting office so that I could create time to write my book, but I just ended up sleeping too much until I had to move out of home and find another full-time job.

Nearly twenty years on from my friend’s dismissive assessment of my relationship, I am still with the same person and still unmarried, but happily so, while the job is better but still not what I always dreamed of doing. I guess that’s the case for most of us. Some of us fight for fulfilment and satisfaction, while some of us aren’t quite so sure of ourselves. Some are happy with drifting along.

FIFA can never be accused of drift. Please don’t say that about them. Their thirst for more is unquenching. Bigger World Cup. Bigger Champions League. Bigger World Club Cup. World Cup every two years. Always pushing the envelope, which is A5 only for now.

I wonder if the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, ever had a friend who questioned him. He recently turned up to the FIFA Best Awards in a navy blue suit and white trainers, although his fashion sense is the least of the things that he should be receiving a supportive word about. The Best Awards are symbolic of FIFA’s self-serving manifesto, grotesque, short-sighted and decadent in a world where people are struggling to heat their homes and put petrol in their cars. 

Infantino probably thinks his show of glitz and gluttony is a public service to the needy. He is, if you recall, someone who feels gay and disabled, statements of fact, vis-a-vis the justification of a Qatar World Cup. He didn’t go as far as identifying as a woman or a black man, so maybe he does have a friend who can help him reach a compromise, even if that person is actually his speech writer. 

Infantino has certainly made his mark on the world, never deny him that. But one day he might finally get round to doing something good.

End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points) Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crysta...