Sitting through the four respective last-ditch World Cup 2018 pitches this morning was nigh-on insufferable at times, as if trapped in a hellish junior management sales exposition that was doomed to cycle on for the rest of human existence.
First up, Holland and Belgium, who’s bid president Ruud Gullit opened up by informing the room that their option would be ‘safe’ and very little else, with luminaries such as Johan Cruyff (to warn the ancient FIFA delegates about the adverse effects that PlayStations can have on a child’s life prospects) and Guus Hiddink (who flatly regaled us with memories of Euro 2000 – not the best strategy considering that, if I recall correctly, it wasn’t all that long ago) following closely behind.
In short, if the Dutch/Belgians manage to pull this one out of the bag, you better start battening down the hatches, as some kind of Faustian evil will surely be unleashed upon the world as part of the bargain.
Next came the Spain/Portugal bid, in which Spain’s FIFA ExCo member Angel Villar Llona blatantly tried to exacerbate any anti-English swell within the FIFA ranks by issuing a timely reminder that their rival’s national media had called the organisation a lot of nasty names over the past few months:
“I love Fifa dearly but those I love the most are my colleagues in the ExCo. Recently we have been criticised by many media outlets. Unfortunately for them Fifa is a clean institution.
Fifa values honesty, Fifa works for football and for the world and all my colleagues here present are all honest, hard-working football people and the people not here are also honest and hard-working.
You have already heard enough slander in the media, the bidding process is clean regardless of what they say.”
What’s the Spanish for ‘kiss-arse’?
Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates and Spanish president Jose Luis Zapatero then rounded out the fairly uneventful showcase by reminding the world that their respective countries currently enjoy more sunshine than Russia and England combined, fairly punctual trains and a swathe of middling, moderately priced hotels.
With Cristiano Ronaldo pulling out at the last minute and their dual footballing heritage large left untouched, it’s little wonder that the Iberian effort has slipped so readily into third place in the betting – and that’s despite all that Qatari ‘help’ they may or may not have received along the way.
Third onto the podium was jolly old England who, thanks largely to a sob story from David Beckham, five minutes of dead-pan stand-up comedy from Prince William and some politely conniving sales patter from prime minister David Cameron, produced a hideously pandering, yet undoubtedly effective pitch to the gathered FIFA representatives.
For all the plaudits shovelled upon England’s ‘three lions’, the hub of the entire pitch was arguably Manchester City’s community bod Eddie Afekafe, who seemingly came from nowhere only to convincingly hammer home the important role that football continues to play in the lower strata of English society:
“Football changed my life. I grew up in one of the roughest parts of Manchester, most of the guys I grew up with were in gangs – some still are, some are in prison. What they didn’t get, but I got, was an opportunity – and that was through football.
“I’m just one story, choose England today and England will deliver many more stories like mine. It’s a new idea, it’s a big idea and it’s one everyone supports – from the prime minister to the Football Association, from the Premier League to the players.”
FIFA president Sepp Blatter immediately praised the English presentation, calling it both ‘excellent’ and ‘remarkable’ – thus resulting in a flurry of betting on England, as they quickly became installed as bookmaker’s favourites to be bestowed with the 2018 hosting duties later this afternoon.
And if gambling surges don’t constitute clear harbingers of impending doom these days, then I really don’t know what do.
Russia rounded up the morning’s entertainment with a bizarre, Putin-less display of diabetes-inducing B-movies set to terrible Euro-house, screaming female pole vaulters, Winston Churchill mis-quotations, hearts, minds and a series of strange allegories between winning the right to host a World Cup and the fall of the Berlin Wall 21-years ago.
As always, answers on a postcard please.
UPDATE: FIFA have just confirmed that Russia will be hosting the 2018 World Cup and that Qatar will be hosting the out-of-the-box 2022 tournament. What a wonderful advertisement for the power of the petro/gaz/oil dollar.
Roll on 2026!