Desmond Kane

The World Cup has lost its innocence, but football’s soul can never be bought

Desmond Kane

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The internet era giveth, but it also taketh away. Once upon a time we would see a World Cup in far-off places, and know very little about the goings on enveloping the tournament. Being none the wiser seemed like no bad thing.

Once upon a time it was only about the football for us stuck on the receiving end of an analogue television signal when the then Manchester United manager big Ron Atkinson was sporting a pair of Speedos sunbathing with the England squad in Guadalajara back in 1986.

Or the right honourable Don Howe discussing the tactics of the day over Dallas Brunch 20 years ago. Or Jimmy Hill popping up on a sofa somewhere in Malaga describing Dave Narey's 25-yarder against Brazil in 1982 as a veritable "toe-poke".

Those were such innocent times. Times when ignorance was indeed bliss. It was all about how England would fare with a fair smattering of Scotland - Ally MacLeod’s 1978 Tartan Army in Argentina most notably - and big Jackie Charlton's Eire thrown into the mix on various occasions through the 1980s and rolling somewhat innocently into the 1990s.

There comes a time to put away childish things. Once the World Cup was about lofty performers such as Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Pele, Zico, Paolo Rossi and Romario smiling and running amok.

Now it is about odd little men in suits such as Sepp Blatter stinking the sport out, attempting to run amok for another five years as president of FIFA. Despite being in a position that feels about as convincing as someone heading up a protection racket. Corporate malpractice has never had it so good.

Blatter was last night somewhat unfavourably compared to Don Corleone, the Godfather of those mafia movies by none other than David Triesman, the former head of English football's governing body. "FIFA, I'm afraid, behaves like a mafia family. It has a decades-long tradition of bribes, bungs and corruption," said Triesman in the Lords.

The Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff notably avoided sharing a platform with the FIFA president the other day - yet still the governing body endure, blissfully emboldened in their own bubble.

A Scotsman in the form of Charles Miller is credited with bringing football to Brazil when he stepped off a boat from Southampton in Rio back in 1894. Little did he know then that Sepp would be washing up 120 years later with football sold down the Amazon by individuals who have discarded the core values of the sport for financial gain.

Social networking in the form of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram let a fan be at the heart of the action while sitting on their throne in Ludlow, Livingston or London. We are better informed about everything, but sometimes knowledge is not power. Not when are you powerless to reverse some of the obvious attacks on the human condition that have soiled this 20th staging of the World Cup finals before it begins this evening. Disillusionment has set in.

My colleague Reda Maher filed a poignant piece last night for these pages about the crippling strike taking place on the local metro in Sao Paulo in protest at the lack of fair pay from the authorities in Brazil. The workers are rising up. If you are for the man in the street, you understand their plight. You don’t need to be like the late Bob Crow to realise they are getting an unfair deal in a land where real poverty is rife.


Reda is not the only journalist with a real concern about the state of fair play away from the play. He is not writing about whether or not Neymar will be given room to roam against Croatia in Sao Paulo this evening, but whether Brazil's largest city - the southern hemisphere's largest city, with over 11 million people - can hold up under the expectation levels.

He is wondering whether the city's transport infrastructure will hold firm in the face of striking workers? Will the bloody stadium see these finals out? These are genuine concerns.

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It is quite frankly nonsensical that Brazil are struggling to cope with this World Cup. They were awarded these finals in 2007. They have had seven years to get it right yet all the indications suggest the national side will be facing Croatia in a stadium this evening that resembles an ongoing building site.

You can only hope there is not a disaster waiting to happen with the Sao Paulo arena untested under the duress of 60,000 spectators.

There are some horrendous images emanating from Brazil with a few hours to go until the tournament starts. See below.

If Brazil somehow fail to make it out of the group stage or lose in the last 16, one suspects the mood of the finals may take a turn for the worse. From such a perspective, we should all wish Brazil and Neymar well.

Brazilians have bought more than 60 percent of the tickets for this World Cup, yet the match the public have all been waiting for seems to be local police against rioters protesting about them.

You would have to say there is around a 60 percent chance the 2016 Olympics in Rio must be in jeopardy if Brazil can’t get themselves up for the World Cup. Somehow the thought of rowing at Eton Dorney making the jump to a widespread celebration at the Copacabana seems fanciful.

FIFA certainly do not bring good luck to this tournament as a helping hand, but Brazil probably should never have taken this on. It has been an impossible mission when the public remain agitated about lack of investment in health, education and public services other than the national obsession with football.

It is much too late now, but hopefully not too late for FIFA to face judgement for their inability to govern the world game without wondering how much they can make for themselves. Over three billion euros are expected to make its way to FIFA off the back of this.


How much of FIFA's party windfall will be seen by the estimated 5,000 homeless people living within two miles of the Sao Paulo stadium? There are no golden tickets for the poor.

The stench from the Qatar 2022 vote will continue to dominate the World Cup long after it leaves Brazil. We can only only hope that the smiling face of Neymar, the magic of Messi, a rampant Ronaldo or some other accidental hero can save the football tournament from the morass of rumour, allegations and reluctance.

A smiling version of the late Nigerian forward Rashidi Yakini would be welcomed after so much glumness, and negativity.

It may feel longer than Vasco da Gama reaching India, but at least it is here.

It is not too late to rescue this World Cup. It is not too late for some glorious footballers to remind us why we all love the world game. The soul of football is non-negotiable. It is intact.

Football can win the day in spite of its custodians simply because the simplest game known to man remains the greatest sporting invention gifted to humankind.

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