Triesman indiscretion at odds with his image

LONDON - David Triesman was seen as a safe pair of hands when he became chairman of England's Football Association in 2008.

On Sunday, in football speak, he appeared to have thrown the ball into his own net when a few careless words forced the country's football authorities into a damage limitation exercise and raised serious question marks over the bid to stage the 2018 World Cup.

Just when the 66-year-old former general secretary of the Labour Party's political skills appeared to have galvanised England's bid he appears to have scored a spectacular own goal.

A secretly taped conversation with a former aide published in the Mail on Sunday in which he suggested Spain and Russia, two rival bidders for the 2018 tournament, were involved in some kind of conspiracy to bribe referees, meant he had no option but to quit as both FA and bid chairman in the space of a few hours.

A few days ago Triesman declared nothing could upset England's World Cup bid. Now his idle gossip could have undone all the good work done last week by David Beckham's charm offensive.

With two FA chief executives having departed under Triesman's reign, and now his sudden exit, England's governing body looks in a state of chaos less than a month before Fabio Capello's squad kick off in South Africa.

Not quite the steadying influence Triesman had hoped for.

The most astonishing thing about Sunday's avoidable mess is that Triesman has been so careless with his words because he is a man who, used to political machinations where a wrong word or two can be so damaging, watches what he says very carefully.

While many will sympathise with him and question the ethics of what Triesman described as entrapment by a newspaper, the fact that his words were made public sealed his fate.

Triesman's idea to make Beckham the face of England's bid was a master-stroke but now he, of all people, appears to have let England down and dented the country's hopes of staging the football festival for the first time since 1966.


The sad part of the latest malaise to hit the FA is that Triesman is a man who cares passionately about the English game.

Whether in a hotel lobby in Monte Carlo, in the stand at his beloved Tottenham Hotspur or at a supporters' club night at Portsmouth, conversations with Triesman are never dull.

Unlike many people in football, he makes his point succinctly, intelligently and will often pause momentarily to choose exactly the phrase or word he wants.

When he spoke to fans at an FA-organised forum at Fratton Park on a wintry night two years ago he did so with respect and humility and got a standing ovation at the end of the evening.

But it has not all been sweetness and light since he became the FA's first independent chairman in January 2008, angering Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's chief executive, when he spoke of the staggering debts of some Premier League clubs.

He was accused of having the wrong people in the wrong jobs and alienating others as England began to prepare the 2018 bid with FIFA vice-president Jack Warner describing England's bid team as lightweight.

There remains an underlying notion within the soccer industry, that while Triesman is urbane, intelligent and inclusive, he was basically out of touch with the realities of football politics.


A former member of the Communist Party, Triesman became the General Secretary of the Association of University Teachers before a two-year stint as General Secretary of the Labour Party from 2001-03.

He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2004, after working in Africa when he was at the Foreign Office and was a close ally of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Born in Tottenham, north London, he is a lifelong Spurs fan and a football man at heart, always ready, when the time was right to break off from the business at hand to chat with anyone who would care to listen about his team.

When Triesman moved to the FA in 2008 his mission was to calm the storms that had raged around the organisation following a series of scandals.

Even last week in Zurich, asked if there were any skeletons still in the closet that could upset England's bid, he replied, "No - you can never be too clean."

Unfortunately for Triesman, it appears there was a skeleton, which jumped out of the closet alive and kicking on Sunday.

Whether it has now kicked England's bid for the World Cup finals into touch will not be known until FIFA announces its decision on December 2. But it certainly cannot have helped.

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