A heartwarming example of Fifa's fabled capacity for bridge-building

Barry Glendenning
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Hard at work, earlier.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Walter Bieri/AP</span>
Hard at work, earlier. Photograph: Walter Bieri/AP


Fiver readers of a certain age will be aware the hedonistic highlight of any ambassador’s reception is usually the arrival of an elderly gentleman dressed as a snooker referee bearing a painstakingly assembled pile of Ferrero Rocher on a platter. Today, however, the word from South America is that Fifa are about to crank things up a notch. While Diego Maradona’s appointment to an ambassadorial role with world football’s governing body does not automatically mean guests at their lavish soirees can expect to be offered mountains of a stimulant that is considerably less fattening than chocolate, the Argentinian’s one-time fondness for jazz salt suggests many will attend in a state of cautious optimism. They will be disappointed, naturally. We need look no further than Diego’s ban from football during the 1994 World Cup to see how intolerant of drug use Fifa’s blazers can be, while his new role with the organisation provides a heartwarming example of their fabled capacity for forgiveness and bridge-building. Unless you’ve spent so much time gorging from the Fifa trough that your name is actually Blazer.

But enough about Chuck the grass, a sad relic of Fifa’s sordid and soon-to-be forgotten past. “Now it’s official,” cheered Maradona on his Facebook page. “Finally I can fulfil one of the lifelong dreams; to work for a clean and transparent Fifa alongside people who really love football.” By clean and transparent Fifa, Maradona ostensibly means a Fifa reboot that hasn’t been caught doing anything too untoward since it got rid of his old mucker Sepp Blatter and appointed one-time Big Cup bingo caller Gianni Infantino in his place. Famous for his refusal to disclose his salary and with a fondness for private jets, chauffeured cars and lavish expenses, Blatter is currently serving a six-year period in exile from his former Fifa fiefdom and has been replaced by the former head of Uefa. As clean and transparent as the organisation he now heads, Infantino is – or at least was – also famous for his refusal to disclose his salary and a fondness for private jets, chauffeured cars and lavish expenses.

Maradona could never have clambered aboard the gravy train while Blatter was in charge of Fifa, not least because of his fairly accurate assessment that the organisation had become “a disgrace and a painful embarrassment” under a man he likened “to an old Mafia boss who has somehow managed to stay out of jail”. Indeed, it is probably this kind of diplomatic language and capacity to avoid causing offence that caught the eye of Fifa’s new boss, who played on the same team as the 1986 World Cup winner during a five-a-side at Fifa HQ last month.

“In recognition of his outstanding and unique contribution to football, Fifa is looking for the best way to collaborate with Diego Armando Maradona, ensuring he has a major role in Fifa’s activities to promote the game across the globe, through his involvement in relevant development projects and the Fifa Legends’ programme,” whooped a statement which suggests nobody at Fifa is quite sure how best to deal with their combustible and charismatic new employee. England’s footballers found themselves in a similar situation in Mexico back in 1986 and while Maradona came up smelling of roses, for Bobby Robson’s boys, it didn’t end at all well.


“In the past, we sometimes chartered a private jet, but we don’t do that now. On holidays we do still rent a fancy villa, but you get different categories of ‘fancy’. We are trying to get used to it. Sometimes it is difficult” – Johnny Heitinga on the struggles and sacrifices involved in trying to adjust to life as a retired footballer.

<span class="element-image__caption">‘Difficult’.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: VI-Images/VI-Images via Getty Images</span>
‘Difficult’. Photograph: VI-Images/VI-Images via Getty Images


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“I truly hope that, in response to a post about Nixon’s comedy exploits (yesterday’s letter from Billy-Bob Chadklaxon Snr IV), at least one of your American readers sent this instead of today’s dribble” – Christopher Smith.

“I can understand why the likeable but not-at-all pseudonymous Billy-Bob Chadklaxon Snr IV doesn’t want their real name used in the letters column, given that the current US administration is keeping an extremely vigilant eye on the Fiver. Well, it makes as much sense as their other policies” – Charles Antaki.

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<span class="element-image__caption">Nailing it, earlier.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Leicester/BPI/Rex Shutterstock</span>
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