Patient Zero: An Introduction
“[FIFA] is a corrupt, diseased body,” wrote the Daily Mail columnist Martin Samuel back in November of last year, shortly after the release of a report exonerating the Qatari 2022 World Cup bid of any wrongdoing in the way it had gone about securing the crucial backing of several of the governing body’s executive members, to ultimately win the right to host the most prestigious tournament in world football.
You’d be hard pressed to argue against him. An investigation into an organisation’s members that could have potentially disastrous consequences for said organisation, led by the organisation itself? And, despite a wealth of apparently incriminating evidence, those under scrutiny are swiftly given the all-clear? Far be it from us to label the quote-unquote investigation as the nadir of football in the modern era, but FIFA’s handling of the affair hardly smacks of transparency.
Samuel was careful to make one crucial distinction in his scathing attack on Blatter et al, however: namely, that FIFA does not, by definition, equal football. Because paradoxically, if the institution responsible for overseeing world football is sick, corruption and greed coursing through its corridors and infecting its vital organs of power, playing standards within the game itself are arguably better then they have ever been. Leaving aside for one moment any qualms with the astronomical sums and shady dealings that allow Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Neymar and Ronaldo to take to the same pitch for the viewing pleasure of millions around the world, it’s nonetheless a spectacle that underlines the professionalism, speed and dynamism required of today’s players.
It would be unfair, then, to cast football as a disease in and of itself. Perhaps it’s better to think of FIFA as a particularly niggly headache in a body that is otherwise in rude health – by now a dull, constant throbbing that many hope can be cured with a decent spoonful of Luis Figo-inspired reform. In essence, it’s a modern sporting rendering of the body politic – a mass of players, coaches and fans topped with the grinning face of an ageing, outdated Swiss administrator.
The most poignant paradox of the situation in which football finds itself in 2015, though, is that some of the triggers empowering the body are the very same ones responsible for its pain. Football has been infected by fame and fortune, among other things, and they’re starting to cloud its vision.
The sources of this infection will be the focus of this week’s Decider columns, as we launch the first of a series of themed weeks that will continue over the coming months. Taking a selection of characteristics of the modern game – money, celebrity, flair and globalisation – four writers will delve back into the recent – and not-so-recent – past to uncover their own ‘Patient Zero’: the people or events that, in their own way, and for better or worse, were central catalysts in making football the game it is today.
And, as ever, we hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.