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focus on the 2018 bid

Dutch dual bid hindered by Cruyff turn

September 25, 2009
By Ernst Bouwes

Go into the lobby of a Dutch hotel and you find yourself alone with the receptionist. It is not designed to be a casual meeting room with comfy chairs or a nice, big couch to while away the day on. Therefore it is not surprising that the art of lobbying has never really taken off in Holland.

GettyImagesJohan Cruyff: Doesn't speak fluent Catalan.

A lobbyist will earn suspicious looks, like an encyclopaedia salesman at the front door. They are viewed as someone trying to break into your free will; trying to change your mind.

At the kick-off of the Holland/Belgium bid for the 2018 World Cup this Monday in Eindhoven, CEO Harry Been stressed the importance of a good lobby. He put it at the top of the list. Since Franz Beckenbauer almost singlehandedly won the German World Cup bid to host the 2006 tournament, beating South Africa in an acrimonious vote in 2000, the importance of putting a famous face as the leader of your campaign should not be questioned.

The Low Countries find themselves in a quandary on this subject. The Belgians have networking and lobbying skills running through their veins and bonhomie as their watchword. Unfortunately, they cannot produce any football star of a significant international reputation.

Paul van Himst and Enzo Scifo have signed up, but they won't cause a stir when walking into a room full of people. Holland have wheeled in Ruud Gullit, who is perfect for the job and will feature prominently during the World Cup in South Africa next summer, preferably alongside Nelson Mandela, someone he knows reasonably well. There is, however, one man who can make or break the success of the joint-campaign: Johan Cruyff. His name, his face, his style, the number #14 on his back - all familiar to billions of people around the globe. Icon, legend, call it what you want. Cruyff oozes everything people love about football.

If a Cruyff-puppet could do the trick, the Belgian-Dutch bidding committee could start building the new stadiums for the World Cup today. However, a successful lobby is all about handshaking, autograph signing and small talk. The campaign will not get away with some historical footage of a memorable turn 35 years ago, or a talking head on a video wall praising the social importance of football and how it brings the youth of the world together [like they presented at the kick-off in Eindhoven]. No, Cruyff has to be there, just as Der Kaiser travelled the world about ten times in eighty days. And that will not be very easy to accomplish.

There is only one person who tells Johan Cruyff what to do and that is Mrs Danny Cruyff. As early as 1969 this became apparent, when he returned too late from a trip to Milan to accompany his wife on a shoe-buying trip. (Not for one pair, by the way, but she was trying to start her own shop.)

Coach Georg Kessler suspended Cruyff for the World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria and it ended in a draw, while the 1970 finals happened without the Dutch team. He also skipped the tournament in Argentina eight years later as a player, when Danny wanted him to stay home following a kidnapping in her own Barcelona house.

After his playing career there were continuous efforts to keep Cruyff involved with the national team as a coach. Each time when the offer of the FA was narrowed down to "only during the tournament" (which always seemed ok with Cruyff at first), it would end in a late withdrawal after a series of misunderstandings, missed faxes or phone calls.

It is not a wild guess to attribute these changes of mind to the result of discussions over the breakfast table at the Cruyff residence, yet it is understandable as Cruyff had heart surgery in the early 90s and may have been advised by his doctor to take it easy. The job of Danny Cruyff may have been to keep him on the leash and avoid undertaking stressful enterprises, especially such extreme ones as six weeks at a World Cup.

The campaign to bring the trophy to Holland and Belgium has the sympathy of Johan Cruyff, but it is understandable that he will not travel from Greenland to Sydney, and back again, to shake hands with every suit and tie from FIFA.

GettyImagesDe Kuip is not up to the standards of other football stadia in the Netherlands

The strength of the bid therefore has to be in the content of the plans. The 2018 World Cup will be green and innovative. Holland and Belgium are both good at ecological technology, while the transport during the tournament can be limited to trains and cars as the longest distance between two venues is less than three hundred miles. As CEO Harry Been said: ''When fans stay on a campsite in the South of Holland, they can visit two games in two days in the car."

Four cities have been nominated in Holland with the final designated to Rotterdam, which is due to build a new 80,000 capacity stadium on a site next to the Kuip. The other venues Heerenveen and Enschede (FC Twente) have both planned to increase their stadiums to 40,000. If the bid fails, they can be filled with their own supporters, as both clubs have thousands of fans on the waiting list for a season ticket.

Rumours are that FIFA will allocate the 2018 World Cup to Europe next month. This will leave four bids in the race for the organisation: England, Russia, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium. The plans have to be at the FIFA headquarters in May 2010 with the final vote of the delegates in December next year.