Live easily, Love freely, Ask nothing. Yes, it’s true. Now is the time. Welcome to the Fifa Technical Study Group weekly media briefing at the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha.
Qatar is a place of constant background music, most of it oddly jarring. Walking on a gleaming gantry in a complex half-built training hangar? You want Howard Jones. Do you do your shopping? Here’s a super-slow orchestral arrangement of Extreme’s More Than Words that will torment your brain for almost three weeks before finally revealing itself, horribly, in the bakery aisle.
For the preparation of the FIFA Technical Study Group press conference, as scattered microphones and media foot soldiers enter the icy air of the Virtual Stadium Hall One, the selected warm-up music is an urgent recording and full of Highway To Hell by AC/CC. Which at least generates a much-needed, if ultimately rather misleading, sense of urgency.
These occasions are part of the treadmill of Big Football events. Qatar 2022 hit its last choreographed deep breaths, the bridge before the final push. Now for the football version of those moments in The Office where we watch the printer trays hum, load blank sheets, enough to feed the machine between beats.
That’s when we get the press briefing from the FIFA Technical Study Group, there to fill the void with words. Although in fairness there was a buzz of static around Monday morning’s study group briefing, that wide, bright stage set up with seven powerfully empty chairs, like the set for Westlife’s worst reunion gig in the world.
The excitement in the room was partly due to the fact that this place is now shot through with its own glamorous event, the venue for This speech by Gianni Infantino. And secondly because the last time the Study Group appeared in public Arsène Wenger violated protocol by accidentally saying something interesting.
These comments at the end of the group stage have been widely reported. According to Wenger, who was really only there to talk about pressing and quick throw-ins, the most successful teams were those “who had the mindset to focus on competition and not on political demonstrations. “. Or in other words, shut it down and stick to football.
Ah, Arsene. How did they come to you? Wenger loves Fifa these days. He’s essentially the Gandalf of Fifa, a rugged, legitimizing, magical presence. But he is also 100% wrong, as demonstrated by those nations that have moved forward waving the flag of Palestinian rights.
Never mind the fundamental impossibility of excluding politics from something that is entirely staged for and by politicians. Or the fact that it’s a man who once raged at financial inequity and waste, who may have coined the term “financial doping”, but now acts as a thought policeman. public for football’s carbon smugglers. Funny how perspectives change.
Unfortunately, there would be no Arsène today. Even Fifa seems to have noticed that Wenger has become a wild-eyed uncle. Instead, we had a line of familiar old pros reclining in their low steel chairs: Cha Du-ri from South Korea, Faryd Mondragón from Colombia, Sunday Oliseh from Nigeria, Alberto Zaccheroni from Italy, the Swiss Pascal Zuberbühler, as well as the man presented as “captain” of the technical group, Jürgen Klinsmann.
It was at least a consolation. Klinsmann has already caused its own stir on BBC TV by bringing together a list of disparate nations – the only common element: not being from Western Europe – as guardians of a common culture of cheating.
Carlos Queiroz urged Klinsmann to resign. But he seems to still be there, his role now less reliable, less of a loose cannon than Wenger. Plus, of course, there’s always that oddly moreish voice.
For a long time, Klinsmann spoke with the voice of a sad Californian robot boy who just wants to understand the meaning of the word love. He’s now become more sassy, communicating in the uplifting tones of a Las Vegas dinner theater host who will eventually rip off his Velcro tuxedo and join the chorus of kicks. “Oh my God, we’re having these talks… twennyfourseven“, Klinsmann confided at the start.
It’s not hard to see why, because it’s basically a pub chat, and on purpose. Klinsmann said if Harry Kane had taken his second uninterrupted penalty from VAR he would have scored. Maybe! But he also waited a long time for the first one. Klinsmann said passing the ball a bit like Spain was probably doing too much. He called Croatia a ‘young nation’ which may or may not be a good thing to say to a Croatian.
The other guys all said stuff too, even though none of it sounded so technical. Cha said “Asian gamers are less intimidated” than before, one of those things you say when you verbally sub-tweet someone. “The Japanese manager was born in Japan and has always shown incredible tactical skills,” he added, and you knew what he meant.
Oliseh made a strong plea for African coaches to have more opportunities. Zuberbühler and Mondragón then delivered an impassioned exchange about goalkeepers, whom they seem to see as some kind of oppressed minority, like Iranian women or freckled red-haired boys.
If Zuberbühler seemed a bit overexcited by the increase in penalty saves to 34%, there was at least a hint here of exactly why Fifa is doing these things, of the deeper significance of the Group’s weekly press briefing. Fifa technical study.
The job here, as everywhere else, is to reinforce and justify every aspect of this world Cup. Zuberbühler was essentially talking about the success, he says, of FIFA’s new goal-line keeping rules. Earlier, Zaccheroni had sung the “technical” effects for five subs and masses of overtime.
Nothing is bad in this room. Everything is fine, better, progressing. At one point, everyone on stage repeated the (questionable) line that this World Cup is a showcase for emerging powers – because, of course, that’s a way to sell the extended version next time around.
“I look forward to the United States, Mexico and Canada. More countries, 48 nations and we’ll see even more surprises,” robot-boy Klinsmann near the end and you felt a kind of glaze wash over you, the familiar haze of Fifa-approved truth in a Fifa-approved area. Fifa inside this painted background of a world cup.
Probably the best way to capture the true interest of this exercise is to go back to the end of Russia 2018, when the last Technical Study Group delivered its 140-page glossy report. Among Carlos Alberto Parreira’s bizarrely meaningless statistics and quotes, the most telling part is Zvonimir Boban’s foreword, which calls Russia “a beacon of hope and beauty” and concludes: “In Russia , they made us fall in love with our game again. Follow that, Arsène. The technical bar is high.