Greg Dyke has never been afraid to take on the big battalions. His fights with Rupert Murdoch first over the rights to televise the newly formed Premier League and then over Sky’s attempt to buy Manchester United are legendary. And, as has been well recorded, he famously took on Tony Blair, and particularly his PR guru Alistair Campbell, over the dossier about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. This ultimately cost him his BBC job but the way he waged that war showed his lust for battle.
However his decision to take on the Premier League and come down firmly in favour of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup in winter seems on the face of it surprising. After all Dyke played a huge part in helping create the Premier League. Also it is widely accepted that as the new head of the FA he needs to build workable relations with the Premier League if the English national team is once again to taste success. There is no point in having the most powerful and successful league in the world if the national team evokes pity rather than wonder.
So why did Dyke in his first meeting with the press since taking charge of the reins at the FA, decide to take on the Premier League? For an answer we have to look beyond these shores to the wider football world. The reason Dyke threw down the gauntlet in this fashion is because he was actually addressing both a very different audience and a very different problem. It is a problem that has dogged the FA for many years and which Dyke clearly wants to set right.
His message was addressed to FIFA and, in particular, Sepp Blatter. The FIFA President has been campaigning on how the Qatar World Cup should be moved to winter. As was to be expected this has provoked the wrath of the Premier League. Dyke, in effect, was telling Blatter that the FA are on his side. The FA no longer want to be outside the big tent of FIFA but very much inside it. In the words of Lyndon Johnson, it is much better to be inside peeing out than outside peeing in.
This has not been the case in recent years. Back in 2002 Adam Crozier, then chief executive of the FA, famously attacked Blatter and FIFA at the congress held in Seoul. In FIFA’s much talked about family, family members however much they loathe each other never make their views public.
Crozier’s blast at Blatter was part of a wider UEFA plan to unseat Blatter. That did not succeed and the end result was England in FIFA’s eyes became the awkward association always willing to have a go at the international body.
This was even more evident two years ago after England’s failed bid for 2018 and revelations of corruption that led to the departure of several FIFA executive members. Despite this the FIFA Congress had no problems in Blatter being re-elected totally unopposed. Faced with this prospect David Bernstein, Dyke’s predecessor, went on to the floor of the Congress and made it very clear that against such a background, to have an election which would be more like a coronation would send all the wrong signals to the world.
Bernstein was encouraged to take this stand by many other national associations, particularly from Europe, who were privately seething about Blatter’s management of FIFA. But having egged him on they did not have the courage to voice their opinions leaving the English, as in Seoul, looking like the organisation that has never reconciled itself to FIFA and is always seeking to create trouble.
It must be said Bernstein has since worked hard to repair the FA’s relationship with FIFA and remains on the Committee for Fair Play and Social responsibility. Dyke’s approach shows he wants to start off by making it clear that whether you like it or not you have to live with the FIFA we have. It would be wonderful if you could change FIFA, or at least reform it. But you cannot.
Indeed we have to live with the idea that Blatter could be around as President until 2023, a year after the Qatar World Cup. In all probability he will stand for re election in 2015. And if by then FIFA decide that the President’s term should be eight years, not four as at present, then we have Blatter presiding over FIFA another decade. So Dyke seems to be thinking make the most of it and be a good member of the club rather than the one who spends all his time complaining about the quality of the beer the useless club management provide.
It is not hard to see why Dyke has taken this position. If there is one lesson to be learnt from the FA’s repeated failure to win the right to host the World Cup it is that when it comes to such bids the FA just does not understand how FIFA works. The FA has treated past World Cup bids like general elections which are decided by the grand policies you present. In fact they are more like golf club elections where such grand ideas do not matter at all. What matters are the relationships you develop. If you like, this means how good you are at back scratching the handful of members who decide such elections.
Take, for instance, the Qatar decision. As Insideworldfootball has revealed, the FIFA executive members had before them their own technical committee report which said a Qatar World Cup in the summer was not feasible. Despite this the executive decided not to follow this advice, did not tell the world why the advice was being ignored. It just decided Qatar could do the job.
It is this that makes what Dyke has done clearly part of a long game whose eventual objective is to get the World Cup back to this country. However to do that Dyke has to more than make public statements that he hopes will please Blatter. He has to work on his own organisation and get the FA to learn how to work inside the FIFA committee room. This means FA officials must get on various FIFA committees, build up friendships and work behind closed doors to influence policy. So far the FA has been pretty hopeless in this task.
And here Dyke would do well to listen to Sir Keith Mills. He was both central to London getting the Olympics and then helping organise the Games. When Mills was brought in as vice chairman of the 2012 bid the chances of Britain getting the Olympics were heavily discounted. Mills, a successful businessman, did not know anything about the Olympic movement and decided the best approach was to ask International Olympic Committee members about their organisation. Faced with an Englishman who was not arrogant but friendly, a listener not a shouter, the IOC were charmed. What happened is now history. That great monkey on the back of British sport that Britain would never again stage an Olympics – Manchester, twice and Birmingham having failed to secure the Games – was removed.
Mills could well have been running the FA today. He was approached about becoming chairman but decided he did not want to put his name forward as he has other things going on in his life, including running his businesses. However having been an adviser on the 2018 World Cup bid he has no doubts about what the FA should do.
He told me: “Look if we’re talking about bringing the World Cup back to the UK, that’s a long term project. We need to listen and we need to influence and shape UEFA and FIFA and that’s not going to happen in just a couple of years. We haven’t done that in the past. FIFA and UEFA are organisations that we need to get much more closely associated with. We went through a period where we were very critical of FIFA and UEFA. That’s not going to be helpful if we’re bidding for a major competition. We need to be their partners, not their critics.”
Dyke’s comments on the Qatar World Cup is the first sign that is just what the FA under him plan to do. The FA may not like all that is going on in Zurich but from now on such opinions will be expressed behind closed doors in a spirit of friendship. The days of the English strutting the world stage in a superior pose teaching the world how to behave are behind us.
Mihir Bose was the first sports editor of the BBC. He has worked for various media outlets and launched the Inside Sport column for the Daily Telegraph. Now a freelance journalist he has written 28 books. His latest book: Game Changer: How the English Premier League Came to Dominate the World was published by Marshall Cavendish for £14.99.