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!!!