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SOCCER INSIDER | Soccer

Here's a Cup U.S. Doesn't Need to Drink From

November 25, 1998|GRAHAME L. JONES

How tempting it must be for U.S. Soccer to tell FIFA just what it can do with its squalid little Confederations Cup.

Just as Germany did.

Just as France did.

Just as France might do again.

The Confederations Cup, some might recall, is that eight-nation tournament that was to have been played in Mexico City and Guadalajara in January.

Then certain European clubs started whining about losing key players to the competing national teams in the middle of the league season. Ten leagues complained to FIFA.

Their thoughts were best expressed by Ken Bates, chairman of the English Premier League's Chelsea team, which stood to lose French players Frank Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly.

"I think it's a waste of time," Bates told the London Evening Standard in October. "I will not be releasing my players for the Confederations Cup.

"And if FIFA [officials] try to impose sanctions, they will be ignored. The tournament is another one they have dreamed up from nowhere. It's got nothing to do with promoting football."

Leagues in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, Spain and the Netherlands followed the English lead.

Jean-Marie Philips of the Belgian league even argued that the tournament had no special sporting value but was linked to commercial interests. In other words, it was organized to make money, nothing more. Can anyone say Televisa?

The French soccer federation eventually caved in to the pressure and France withdrew from the tournament.

The loss of the world champion and the probability that Brazil would send a weakened team prompted FIFA to pause, then back down.

Finally, soccer's world governing body announced Tuesday that it was moving the tournament from Jan. 8-20 to July 28-Aug. 8. And, FIFA said, France would now be happy to take part.

"The French Football Federation has notified FIFA that, unlike the original January period, it will be able to field a strong team in July-August," a FIFA news release said.

Wrong.

France almost immediately said it might not participate.

"A competition cannot have these dates, it is a question of the calendar," Noel Le Graet, president of the French league, told L'Equipe. "It's even quite grotesque."

The 1999-2000 French league season starts July 28. On Friday, Claude Simonet, president of the French federation, said he wanted the dates changed again.

"We are unanimous in our agreement to play the tournament, but the dates are not right," he said. "July 28 is not such a problem but August 8 is far too late. The dates have to be brought forward or the tournament has to be shortened."

The new dates also conflict with the Major League Soccer season, the Pan American Games soccer tournament July 23-Aug. 8 in Winnipeg, Canada, and come right on the heels of the Copa America, or South American championship, to be played June 29-July 18.

Logically, MLS should follow the European clubs' lead and refuse to release its players.

Having lost many of its national team stars to the World Cup in 1998 and to World Cup qualifying in 1997, the young league stands to lose them again in 1999. Not only the best of the Americans, but also such players as Bolivia's Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno and Mexico's Jorge Campos, all of whom also will be lost for the Copa America.

Doug Logan, the MLS commissioner, has every right--in fact, a duty--to be telling U.S. Soccer just what he thinks of this nonsense. And Bob Contiguglia, U.S. Soccer's president, has every right--in fact, a duty--to be telling FIFA just how unacceptable this is.

But all Logan has said is that he is "extraordinarily disappointed." Contiguglia has not been heard from at a time when a voice raised in protest is desperately needed.

The Confederations Cup is supposed to be a tournament between the champions of each of FIFA's six continental confederations. It has been watered down to include some also-rans. That already makes it a dubious event.

But when FIFA officials can't even do something as simple as consulting a calendar, the reek of amateurism is everywhere and it does not bode well for the rest of Joseph "Sepp" Blatter's term as FIFA president.

European champion Germany told FIFA what it thought of the Confederations Cup.

The U.S., which is scheduled to play New Zealand on July 28, Brazil on Aug. 1 and France on Aug. 3, should do the same.

Who needs it?

LIGHTING THE FUSE

Sometimes a match needs to be struck before the heat can be felt, or the light seen. With that in mind . . .

* Nice to see that while the MLS champion Chicago Fire and the New York/New Jersey MetroStars announced their 1999 season openers on Thursday, the crack new public relations staff of the Galaxy has not yet done so.

* Two months into Contiguglia's presidency of U.S. Soccer and can't you just feel the excitement?

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