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2018 bid

Beckham factor dwarfs his rivals

May 14, 2010
By Andrew Warshaw, Zurich

Australia had their their bid book bound in genuine kangaroo hide; Holland and Belgium had Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff arriving on bicycles; and the Russians pulled out a personal letter signed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. But if stylish presentation means anything in the murky world of World Cup bidding then the David Beckham factor certainly worked in England's favour in Zurich.

David Beckham
GettyImagesDavid Beckham hands over England's 2018 bid book to FIFA chief Sepp Blatter.

The handover of the nine respective dossiers to FIFA President Sepp Blatter marked the most important milestone to date in the campaign to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, with the vote on December 2.

Everyone did their bit but it was Becks who stole the show, speaking unscripted in a high-profile appearance full of sincerity and ceremony. England's most capped outfield player spoke of the "passion and emotion" the country could bring to the tournament as he led a five-strong delegation.

"I'm here on behalf of our fans," said Beckham. "Football runs through our veins. We are all brought up on it. It's truly an honour to be here. On behalf of our team, the delegation and our fans, we present you with our bid book."

In thanking the English delegation - second among the nine candidates to present their bid books - Blatter referred to England as the "motherland" of football and disclosed that he had already spoken to new Prime Minister David Cameron who, he said, had endorsed the bid.

Government guarantees are a must for any successful World Cup bid and there has been considerable alarm over whether Britain's new PM, who is expected to announce huge cuts, would deliver on funding.

But Blatter said: "Yesterday I received a phone call from the new Prime Minister. Not only did he express his determination to be behind the bid but also behind the World Cup 2010."

Later, Beckham said winning the vote to stage the 2018 World Cup would rank among his greatest achievements. "Today was a big day for us," he said. "If we win the vote, it would be up there with anything I have achieved as a player."

Russia's bid leader, deputy first minister Igor Shuvalov, argued giving the tournament to England wouldn't be fair and that his country was more worthy.

"Football is so well established in England but one of the main aims of the World Cup should be to develop the sport. Russia can do this more than England - and more than Spain and Portugal - in this respect," he said.

Russia has been pouring money into their campaign as a result of which bookies have shortened the odds on a Russian victory, while Spain and Portugal have slipped below the radar, as has the other joint bid of Holland and Belgium. The latter is considered such an outsider that Shuvalov, accidentally or not, failed to even mention them when playing up his own country's chances.

As for Spain and Portugal, Angel Villar Llona, the Spanish federation president and long-standing FIFA vice president, defended the decision to promote a co-hosted bid with Portugal, despite the fact that Spain is one of the world's great football powers. "The truth is that we believe we are even stronger in partnership with Portugal because that represents the power of the Iberian peninsula," he said, not altogether convincingly. "And the Portuguese can bring to the table all their organising expertise from the outstanding 2004 European Championship."

Meanwhile, Sunil Gulati, president of United States soccer federation, said all their organising expertise could only work in their favour, despite having hosted in 1994. The US are still holding out to stage either 2018 or 2022 and Gulati said: "Look at what we've done since the last time, starting a league and hosting two women's World Cups."

Sepp Blatter
GettyImagesFIFA chief Sepp Blatter has been courted in Zurich

The USA may not be the first country on everyone's lips when it comes to the beautiful game but Gulati was having none of it. "I went to a game on Friday, a friendly between Mexico and Ecuador in an American Football stadium and 77,000 people were there. That should tell you everything. We've come a long way and with the impetus of another World Cup, we could take those last steps."

But back to Beckham. England may have won the public relations battle in Zurich but celebrities will not be enough on their own to win the vote in December. A strong technical bid is half the battle. Lobbying and schmoozing across the globe represents the other half in the months to come.