Monday, July 10, 2006

Auf Wiedersehen Berlin...

It is 0600 hours on Monday, July 10th. We are doing our final packing and will be heading to the airport in a few minutes to make a connection through Frankfurt to take us home. I have more stories to bring you about this great adventure and will fill you in about the LOC party, a visit the Chancellory of the German Republic, the last days for us in Berlin and naturally the Final match.

The recording of all of that and some other earlier entries will have to wait until I am across the Atlantic and comfortably at home. I will then bring you those pictures and anecdotes as I have throughout this great World Cup. Auf Wiedersehen Berlin. Auf Wiedersehen Germany.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dinner with Donna...

One of my all time favorite people is Donna de Varona. For soccer people, I will describe Donna as the Chairperson of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup USA. For everyone else, I will describe her as the lovely two time Olympic Gold Medalist who won the 400m Individual Medley and the 400m Freestyle Relay in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics. For people interested in justice, I will tell you that Donna was at the front of the pack pushing the U.S. government to adopt Title IX, a law giving equal benefits to women athletes. She was also a founder of the Women's Sports Foundation. For those interested in broadcasting, I am proud to describe Donna as a lifelong TV personality who created a place for women in sports broadcasting and demostrated that she could do it all when it came to creating programming, interviews and hosting shows. For those of you interested in the future, Donna continues to be someone to watch since she is always in touch with what is happening and has the stature to lead those looking to do good.

Donna arrived on Friday morning, July 7th, with her husband of 20 years, John Pinto (who is a lot of fun). The good restaurants around the city had been booked for weeks but we were lucky that they made a place for us in the Lorenz Adlon, an incredible French restaurant on the the second floor of the Premier Kempinski standard bearer hotel. The view from the window was a panoramic view of the Brandenberg Gate.

I must admit that the food offerings exceeded the view. First were two tasting menus. The seasonal of five courses; the other with seven. If that didn't ring your bell there were two full pages of a la carte dishes. We didn't opt for the tasting menus but decided to do a traditional appetizer dishes and a main entree. The wine choice was tough, since there were so many to choose from, but I managed to find one that everyone liked and we polished off three bottles while digesting a really great meal.

During the day I got a message from the producers of Lynne White's WOR "drive time" Radio Show, to see if I could do a 4:10pm New York time live interview about the World Cup. That meant it would be around 10:00pm locally here in Berlin, right in the middle of this great dinner. So, with some good planning, I was able to leave the dinner table for the 15 minutes needed to do the radio show and returned just before the main course arrived.

Mary Lynn and I devoured chocolate souffles, while John, Jason and Donna did their own thing finding delicious choices on the menu. As soon as we finished, I headed back up to the room and a good night's sleep while the quartet headed out to the street to catch some of the flavor of the Fan Mile. More fun tomorrow.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Torn between two wines...

Michel Platini knows that one of my favorite wines is Chateau Figeac, a rich St. Emilion from the Bordeaux region of France. He and I once sat in a lovely New York French bistro, Le Charlot (69th Street between Madison and Park Avenues), and uncorked a vintage bottle which I saved for special times. I can be almost as enthusiastic about this wine as he was while watching Zidane put away the penalty that gave France the victory over Portugal in the Semi Finals in Munich on July 5th (pictured on the left).

On the other hand, there is my long time relationship with Tuscan wines from Italy and in particular Masseto Ornellaia. Between the Figeac and the Masseto I am truly torn to pick a favorite. I am sure this may be a dilemma faced by others as we go into Sunday's final.

The answer is simple as it relates to French and Italian Reds; we will need to let them fight that out on the field. When I wrote the story about Campagnola and overlaid the flags of the two contestants, it made me wonder if the only thing that separates them was Blue and Green, the sky and the earth, since the other two colors in each of their flags must clearly stand for Red and White wines.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Home Stretch...

Thursday was the sixth anniversary of the announcement in Zurich of the decision to award the FIFA World Cup 2006 to Germany. As dawn approached, it was time to leave Munich where we witnessed the last of the semi-finals and return to Berlin for the wrap up meetings of the FIFA Referees' Committee and the Organizing Committee for the FIFA World Cup. (Pictured here are Lennart Johansson and Julio Grondona, Chairman & Vice Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the FIFA World Cup.)

Due to the noon start for the Referees meeting, the rest of us were obligated to make the same early morning charter departing the Franz Josef Strauss Airport. Early mornings after late nights are never easy, but the flight had us back in plenty of time to check my son Jason into the hotel upon our arrival. He had joined us in Munich 24 hours earlier only 9 days after my newest grandson Logan's debut.

Mary Lynn, Jason and I had a quick lunch and then I set off for the Organizing Committee meeting while they were energized to see what could be found in these final days in the streets of the German capital.

The meeting, starting promptly at 1400 hours at the Adlon Hotel's 2nd level meeting salon opened with a few remarks from Chairman Johansson on how well things have gone. Urs Linsi then called the role of the Committee noting only two absences from Berlin that day. We moved right into the Agenda with reports by Jim Brown, Director of Competitions on Match Results; Ticketing & Hospitality by FIFA Vice President David Will; Refereeing by FIFA VP Angel Maria Villar Llona; Appointments of Match Commissioners for the two remaining matches; a report by the Technical Study Group, offered by Holger Osiek; a report on Marketing & TV matters by FIFA Director of Marketing and TV, Jerome Valcke; Markus Ziegler reported on Media Matters; followed by Drs. Michel D'Hooghe and Jiri Dvorak on Medical matters; and finally a report by Disciplinary Committee Chairman Marcel Mathier.

The LOC (Local Organizing Committee) then had its chance to report with Franz Beckenbauer leading off, followed by Horst R. Schmidt. After some comments regarding our next meeting, the President wrapped up the session offering the concensus of the members in complimenting the work of the LOC and FIFA's bodies. Blatter then made special presentations to Beckenbauer, Schmidt, Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, President of the German Football Federation and to Lennart Johansson and Julio Grondona.

As we left the room, the LOC presented each member of the meeting a personalized commemorative glass sculpture with their thanks. The night would bring us together at the Gala Dinner of the Local Organizing Committee being held at the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin. No more meetings here. That aspect is concluded.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Most every football official from Dr. Havelange to George Weah has been with me to dinner at Campagnola's Restaurant on First Avenue between 73rd and 74th Street on New York's Upper East Side. It isn't open for lunch, just dinner. It normally attracts a business clientele to its first sitting of Wall Street types and a later sitting with just about anybody that loves good Italian food.

Tuesday, on the street in front of the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, the President of the Northern Ireland Football Association, Jim Boyce came up to me and said, "Chuck, I was just at your favorite restaurant in New York. Our team had a game and we went there for dinner." So, this is more than just another one of New York's 28,000 restaurants; this is one that I have been eating at for over 15 years. Curiously enough, it has an Italian Manager, Salvatore Lombardi and a French Chef, Etienne Lizzi.

In 1998, we waited through the Quarter-Finals on July 3rd to see which of them I would be inviting to join me in Paris. It turned out to be the Chef, with the Italians being eliminated 4-3 on Penalties. Etienne hopped a jet for Paris following France's discharge of Croatia on July 8th, giving them the ticket for the July 12th showdown with Brazil at the Stade de France.

I told Chef Etienne to join us in the police escorted convoy to the stadium. Even now, you can hear him tell the story of his ride with sirens wailing through the city streets of Paris to Saint Denis. But, best of all, he remembers France winning the day and making his trans-Atlantic trip very special.

Last night I made a critical decision. It was no longer a question of inviting one or the other. So, as we left the stadium, at a time equating to 6pm in New York, I called the fashionable restaurant and asked to speak with both of them. Yes, they are both invited! So, on July 9th the bragging rights of this New York landmark restaurant will be decided for the next four years.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Three Bears...

Riding around Berlin, prior to taking off for a quick re-visit to Munich and the France vs Portugal Semi-Final, we took the opportunity to visit some of the exhibits set up in the German capital. On the Bebelplatz, Berlin had artists from countries around the world decorate Fiberglas bears with national flavor. This square, opposite Humbolt University, houses the memorial to the acts of May 10, 1933, where the Nazis, upon coming into power, burned thousands of books.

Ironically, a square originally dedicated to religious expression and the arts, it became the scene for intellectual intolerance and the destruction of the vehicles of ideas.

Indeed, books were born in Germany. During the World Cup, Germany decided to celebrate its contribution to the world with examples of ideas, invention and innovation. The Gutenberg printing press gave the technology to mass produce them. How poignant that this historic book burning was reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition. There is a plaque, as a memorial in the center of the square, now surrounded by a world of painted bears, which reads... "They that start by burning books will end by burning men," words by Heinrich Heine written in 1821. How well those words foretold the future of book burners of the 1930s.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

From Russia with Love...

By contrast to the peaceful calm of Cologne, the streets of Moscow on June 28th were a flood of cars straining to move ahead with heavy feet on the brakes making sure they didn't lurch out of control. The ride from Sheremetyevo Airport left doubt whether we would make our first appointment on time at Dynamo Stadium in downtown Moscow.

There were great sights on the way, and the time seemed to melt with endless visions of the new Moscow - exciting and vibrant. A city that was once gray was now lit in neon... advertising movies, theater, museums, culture and cellular phones... yes, plenty of cell phones.

The Moscow Marriott Royal Aurora is located right in the middle of the downtown area of Moscow. It is a lovely hotel with great European service. Unlike my previous visit, in -32C temperature, today it was +32C and Moscow had a totally different feel and look than the last time in early February.

The purpose of the Moscow interlude from the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany was to inspect the stadiums that will be used in the upcoming FIFA Women's U20 Championship being held in Russia (August 17th through September 3rd) in St. Petersburg and Moscow (with 4 different stadiums in the Moscow region). While earlier visits had been made and work orders prepared by the LOC to the specifications of FIFA's requirements, the orderly process of making sure that all would be ready for the opening had to go on, even if that meant interrupting the personal schedules of officials at the World Cup in Germany.

At each site, we had a complement of people from the stadium facility, venue committee, local organizing committee, Russian Football Federation and Sports Authority, together with members under my Chairmanship from the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-20 and U-17 Women's World Cups.

After checking into the Marriott Hotel and a short ride later, I arrived at the Dynamo Stadium on time, much to my surprise. This downtown location is full of history, but is among the oldest facilities. Nonetheless, the stadium manager had performed magic in converting the resources available for the renovation into good clean functional facilities which would be ready for use in August.

Torpedo Stadium was next. Here too we found that many of the items on the list could be checked off, while little things left themselves to be sorted out and improved. This indeed was why we were there. What was unquestionable was the totally willingness of the Federation and the local stadiums to comply with our wishes. Although, sometimes difficult for them to understand, since there are many differences between running local club matches and international championship double-headers.

Then it was back in the van and off to the hotel to conclude a day which began at 0400 hours in Cologne. Nonetheless, the work continued as Iñaki Alvarez, FIFA Staff Member coordinating the Championship was on the phone back to the office in Zurich. He update them of our findings and listed the topics needing follow up during his next July visit. Looking on was Alexey Spirin of our Committee and a historic name in Russian football and administration.

The morning found us traveling an hour and a half into suburban Moscow and the Podmoskovie Stadium. This is a delightful, small complex with an extensive indoor arena and good club facilities. The decision to use this venue enabled them to make a real investment to upgrade their stadium, VIP and Press facilities. It was very satisfying to see the benefits of the work underway.

Even the administration buildings were being renovated and outfitted to accommodate the additional needs of 4 dressing rooms required by double headers. Each venue also had to provide office space for the LOC and the FIFA staff, Referees, Youth Program, Marketing, Assessors and Commissioners. The expanded press facilities in most cases were also a major hurdle to pass. Camera positions were less of a problem, since televising from these facilities was a fairly normal activity for the host broadcaster.

Back in from the countryside and a visit to the big bear of a stadium, Lokomotiv. This modern facility will be used only for the Semi-Final and Final. Even here, a full inspection from the field to the dressing rooms was made and with Iñaki's insight and Spirin's local pressure, we are confident that this train will be turned in the right direction for the finals in Moscow.

We are all looking forward to our final visit in August to these Moscow venues and the Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg, when we arrive with the teams of Brazil, New Zealand and Australia in Group A with Russia; and China, Finland, Nigeria and Canada comprising Group B; while Switzerland, Mexico, Korea DPR and Germany make up Group C; and finally Congo DR, France, USA and Argentina will be the final quartet Group D.

Another 0400 hours wake up call and it was on the way to airport. A travelers note: At 0530 hours, it takes only a small fraction of the time to get there, as compared with frenetic daytime traffic schedule. Berlin was a short 3 hours away, and as I landed the familiar anticipation of game day was here. Germany would face Argentina later that afternoon and Germany would once again be smiling.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Logan has time to decide...

But, the agents are circling as Logan puts on his Mom's colors. With Beckham announcing his retirement as captain of the England team, Logan Chase Blazer is considering his options. In any case, he likely won't be ready until the World Cup of 2026. I will be a proud grandpa for whichever team he plays.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

France's Secret Weapon...

I knew it had to be some magical potion or incantation that caused France to succeed once again over the odds-on favorite Brazil with all it big stars and talent. In the second half, I saw the reason. The camera flashed to the stands and there with Caroline Duret, the protocol manager for Platini during the FIFA World Cup France 1998, was Youri Djorkaeff, the 38 year old veteran French Midfielder who was a big part of the successful World Cup winning team 8 years ago over the same Brazilian finalist in the Stade de France, St. Denis.

Youri now plays for the Red Bulls in New York, and he left the team prior to its road trip to New England where the Red Bulls lost Saturday to the Revolution 2-3 citing personal family reasons. Djorkaeff is the one legitimate talent on an otherwise very ordinary MLS team in the League's highest profile market. They just fired their coach Mo Johnston and gave the interim position to Richie Williams. They might well have considered a better choice. The mature Djorkaeff, with enormous international experience could well have been considered the logical first choice.

I don't know what provoked Youri's trip. Maybe it was just his loyalty to his old teammates? Maybe a message for the Red Bulls that their view of the future is not the same as his? What I do know is that during a very dismal period of this team's history, the one producer the Bulls had was Youri Djorkaeff. I am glad that he was able to be in Frankfurt with his football family. I consider him my friend and am happy that he could be united in Frankfurt on this occasion.

My message to the Red Bulls: Get over it. Find the best way to use the asset you have been blessed with and turn your attention back to how to build a viable winning team in America's most important market.

To Youri, and your support of your friends, colleagues and nation... Vive le France!!!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's good we practiced those PKs...

England couldn't make it happen today and Scolari was glad that he drilled his players on hitting those corners, although after the first 3 PK for the Iberians with one rebounding off the post and the other gliding just wide, it really didn't look like it was going to happen for them today.

This young man, decked out in his Portugeuse best, had his tickets for the semi-finals and was hoping that his team would be the one to make it to Munich on the 5th of July against the winner of tonight's nightcap between Brazil and France.

Fate has its way of making itself known and then just outside our hotel, long before the result was certain, two revelers knew they had it in the bag and had been celebrating for some time before Cristiano Ronaldo closed it out making the 3rd on the 5th try.

Time to go and catch a quick dinner in front of a TV set and watch Brazil v France.

Quite a day. It is never dull at the World Cup.

Click here to get the game details

Jesse Owens would have been surprised...

Jesse Owens would probably have been surprised to learn that 70 years after his famous Berlin Olympic appearance, that on June 30, 2006, the only player of color on the pitch in the match Argentina vs Germany would be from the host country - Deutschland.

It is notable that in the preliminary round game between France vs Togo, in Cologne on 23 June, the match ended with 20 players of color present on the field at the final whistle.

It is very good that FIFA has made the effort in these games in the Quarter Finals to emphasize through the declarations of the Team Captains the unified position of Football against racism and discrimination.


The Berlin Renaissance...

Sitting here in the room, it is so very hard to imagine what Berlin was like at the time of the visit of John F. Kennedy. From my window, just above the Brandenburg Gate, I find myself inside a modern European phenomenon. One driven no less by football than the incredible desire of the people to bring themselves the benefit consistent with the goals and aspirations of all people.

After decades of surpressed nationalism, kept in check by Americans, English, Russians and French, the positive spirit of German nationalism is now for this first time flourishing symbolically in the form of its flag adorning rooftops, cartops, clothing, faces and roadways. Everywhere, as not seen by a generation of soccer, Germany is standing proud in asserting itself as a winner and a gracious host. Pride and humility. What wonderful characteristics, probably best seen in the everpresent face of Franz Beckenbauer, who for those of us who know him for most of his six decades, find him as the symbol and personality which Germany has decided to adopt for this competition and for its evolution.

Franz is the embodiment of the principles of good governance, competitive spirit, realistic assessments and understatement, while seeming to be overdelivering on a steady basis. As the game with Argentina concluded on Penalty Kicks, Beckenbauer rose knowing that the pieces of the puzzle were falling in place and that the continued success of the FIFA World Cup 2006 Germany was assured since his team and their leader, California based Jürgen Klinsmann, had used Germany's advantages wisely and exploited the errors of their opponent Argentina.

At some point in the future, I hope to understand what turns otherwise great coaches into men who fail to rise to the occasion. I recalled, all too well, the moment in 1998 when Mexico took the lead over Germany in Montpelier, France, in the round of 16. Manuel Lapuente's Mexicans had dominated the play with attack, possession and the score of 1-0 on a goal from blonde-headed Luis Hernandez. Suddenly he would change their tactic and defend against the onslaught of the German ranks hitting their defense over and over until Mexico coughed up goals to Klinsmann and Bierhoff and Germany advanced to the quarter-finals. I flew that afternoon to London with Henry Kissinger lamenting the unnecessary loss to Germany and watched the match between England and Argentina the following night only to learn how deep English depression can be.

While the Presidents of the two combatant federations, Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder of Germany and FIFA Senior Vice President Julio Grondona, who is also AFA's President focused on the field. The question I have is why did Jose Peckerman make decisions which, while I am sure intended to hold on to his one goal lead, caused the demise of the aspirations of millions of blue and white striped fans so many miles away. Are we so afraid to be wrong? Do we have the fortitude of spirit? Can we be bold enough to be right and sometimes wrong? At least, let us do it with style and class. I heard that Mr. Peckerman fell on his virtual sword and has closed a page on an otherwise brilliant development program for what appeared to be the most talented team in the 32 playing in Germany. By contrast, Klinsmann has stuck to plan and his script is clear. Prepare them well. Do what you do best. Be there at the end.

Berlin, Berlin... so much of what is good about Germany is now coming to life in Berlin. The people are celebrating. Enjoy these days. There is still much hard work ahead.

The following pictures are a sampling of some of the fun being celebrated in the Renaissance of Berlin on the last day of June 2006.