Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Tenuous Politics Football World Cup 2018 : Semi Final 1!

Tenuous Politics Football World Cup 2018: Semi-final !  France v Belgium

he clash of two impressive that border each other should be a fascinating clash tonight.   Although some of us are stick with the bombardment of the inaccurate slogan “Football’s coming home” over this week another slogan may be aired tonight: “France is Back”.
This has been used by technocratic capitalism’s dream politician Emmanuel Macron who despite his electoral victory in 2017 is now plunging new levels of unpopularity.  He has faced protest from many sectors of society – public sector workers, students, farmers and pensioners have all taken to the streets in the last few weeks against his “reforms”.  He is seeking some reflected glory from the football team and will attend the match tonight. 
The French team need some redemption Euro 2016 was held there despite the permanent state of emergency.  This has now been lifted but much of the police powers are still in place.  France lost in the final in Paris against a fairly limited Portugal team.
They are now reliant on a band of young exciting players mainly from les banlieues – the poor suburbs of Paris where there are multi-cultural immigrant communities.  The biggest star so far is M’Bappe  who comes from the “Bondy” and is a local hero there where his Cameroon born Dad also used to play.  The Premier League stars  and key French players Pogba  (whose brothers play for Guinea) and Kante (parents from Mali) also come from les banlieus.
This positivity only temporarily covers the racism  which is still rife in many sections of French society though.  There has been riots in Nantes (see above) after the police (armed in France) shot dead an unarmed young North African immigrant last week.  One of the stars of France Griezmann had to apologise for posing in “blackface” make up last December ( an offensive image see below).  A crassly insensitive move for a French player against his teammates and indeed the whole of France where the National Front polled over 10 million votes against Macron.
Hopefully if France are victorious it can help fight the racist anti-immigrant feelings in France – like the 98 team of Zidane  victory did if only for a short while.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Tenuous Politics Football World Cup 2018: Last 16 knockout and Quarter Finals!

The knock-outs began with pressure on the big guns... What an outcome.  Europe asserting its authority over Latin America?

Croatia v Denmark. 
The impressive performance of Croatia in this tournament (winning all 3 of their games so far) masks a real crisis in Croatian football and indeed their national team. Earlier in June just before tournament Zdravko Mamic - the power of Croatian football since independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 was sentenced for 6.5 years for fraud relating to transfers when he was head of Dinamo Zagreb (in the early days of indy known as Croatia Zagreb). He has fled into Bosnia rather than face prison. Several of the players he made millions from are in the national squad including club captain Luka Modric - man of the match in recent Champions League Final - and Liverpool defender Lovren. Modric gave confused and weak testimony in Mamic's trial (see below) and has been charged with perjury - which he will have to deal with after tournament. Lovren also gave contradictory evidence and is currently being investigated for perjury
. Mamic was also Vice President of the national Croatian Federation - Cacic (the coach duirng Euro 2016) was widely seen as a dupe of Mamic and was sacked as Mamic was charged. Their new coach Dalic has been brought in from UAE football where he managed fairly impressively. Perhaps more significantly he has no links with Mamic although ironically given Mamic's self imposed exile he is a Bosnian Croat. 
Whether the excitement of the World Cup can overcome these tensions for the next couple of weeks we shall have to see. 
The Right Wing governments of both Croatia and Denmark met at the EU Summit on Immigration last week - Croatia refusing to host any processing camps for migrants. Denmark has also taken a strong anti-immigration stance with the growth of the populist right wing Danish People's Party. In the last few years welfare payments to asylum seekers has been slashed provoking protest s (see below)The moderate Social Democratic Danish party (Labour's sister party and one of the models for the SNP Growth Commission) is now indistinguishable from the far-right on immigration - calling for a cap on asylum seekers amongst other things - meaning other left groups have broken all potential links with it. The Danish team have a number of players whose families arrived as refugees from Africa in a more welcoming period.

The Mexicans will take to the pitch this afternoon in the afterglow of a massive left wing landslide victory for Obrador. (see below) He gained over 50% of the votes with a left wing populist programme - in defiance to the country's establishment and (obvioulsy) Trump's Presidency. Many Mexicans speak of overturning the "theft" of the 1988 election where the leftist candidate Cardenas' victory was stolen - with the neo-liberal governments that followed across Mexico and Latin America in the 90s this could have sparked a very different history.

One year later in Brazil Lula the veteran trade unionist also almost won the Presidency with the Workers' Party. Now the situation is very different. Lula was jailed in April this year for corruption charges - he is now barred from standing in this year's elections where he was leading the opinion polls. This follows the "coup" which overthrew the Workers' Party President and torture survivor - Dilma Roussef in 2016. She was also impeached on misusing government funds. This has created the basis for a right wing movement in Brazil - the leading candidate in the opinion polls is Bolsonaro (see below) - a far right ex-army officer. He expressly praised the torturers in Brazil's miltary dictatorship of Roussef before her impeachment. He is also explicitly homophobic and has advocated sterilisation of poor familiies. The fact that the Left (despite the moderate nature of the Worker's Party in power - they still had a large degree of support) has no candidate to counter Bolsonaro is really worrying. To such an extent Tite the Brazilian coach who has turned the team round after the humiliation of the 7-1 defeat to Germany at home was named as most Brazilians' favoured Presidential candidate. Tite has dismissed this out of hand though if he wins the World Cup in Russia - this momentum may become unstoppable!!

The Quarter Finals!
One outside bet for the tournament are Uruguay who have won every game so far and only conceded one goal with a strong defence. One inspiration for the team is to win it for their manager Oscar Tabarez (see below) whose health is visibly failing with alleged Guillain-Barre syndrome. Tabarez is the longest serving manager at the World Cup (in post since 2006) and made the semi-finals in 2010. He has revolutionised Uruguayan football and has moved it away from the brutal team that played Scotland in the 1986 tournament. He is known as El Maestro - he has a background as a primary school teacher- and is close to the leftist President Tabare Vazquez. Vazquez was also involved in football being the Chairman of Montevideo team Progres in the 80s (when it won the league). His Broad Front coalition have faced some protests in January this year from farmers allied to the right wing parties who have been excluded from power for 15 years who wanted more tax subsidies (see below).
At his house Tabarez has a quote emblazened on his wall ascribed to Che Guevara "One must harden oneself without losing tenderness.” He also named his daughter Tania after Che's comrade in the Cuban and Bolivian struggles. His support for Che ensured he was popular with Argentinian club Boca Juniors who he coached to a title in early 1990s.
His philosophical approach has gone down surprisingly well with the Uruguay team who have a few big names in their line up notably Suarez and Cavani. In Tabarez' own words "Football is a collective game not an individual one. When I want to see stars I look at the sky. I do not coach stars I coach people." Good luck El Maestro!
 England v Sweden. This afternoon's match has historically two closely aligned teams. Swedish football followed English football tactically and structurally very closely for many years. Eriksson and Hodgson (both ex England coaches) won a number of league titles in Sweden early in their career. Southgate in many other ways a breath of fresh air as no connections with that form of tactics - allowing him to develop a more mainland European direction ironic given the Brexit era. The Swedish coah Andersson like Southgate has only ever managed in his domestic league. They also both are keen students of other sports to see what they can learn - Andersson with handball and Southgate with American Sports - notably basketball and their form of football! 
The future for English football as a whole regardless of the outcome of today and indeed the tournament is in a lot of doubt. Every member of the England squad plays in England although the number of English players in the league is a minorirty (see below) - in contrast to few of the Swedish squad playing domestically. 
On the day after Theresa May announced plans to adopt a soft-ish Brexit she spoke of a work permit system across EU rather than free movement. This system already operates in English Football Leagues (including the Premier League) and indeed Scottish leagues for non- EU players. Essentially this means the player needs to be a regular international with a lot of caps or young and you have paid a lot of money for them recognising their potential The big money dominance of the Premier League from 1992 onwards coincided with the expansion of the EU allowing the cream of European football in England with minimum immigration law fuss - even Scotland got Laudrup and Larsson in the 1990s (established Scandinavian internationals).
Academic research shows that if the free movement of EU footballers had not existed in the Premier League Era and instead a work permit system - which looks quite similar to May's proposals - was in place only 40% of foreign players would have been allowed to play in England. This ban would have included big names like Anelka, Fabregas, Vialli, Mahrez, Kante and Alonso. Post Brexit the English Premier League may become something very different. Southgate may see this as an advantage as his young team may get more English players around them at their clubs. Or it could mean the influence of the more skilful European possession football could diminish. 
Sweden itself had its own ambiguous relaionship with the EU - it only voted to join in 1995 with a majority of 52% - the reverse of the 2016 Brexit vote. The current Social Democrat PM Lofven (see below) (an Anglophile Spurs fan!) has shifted to the right on immigration like his Danish counter part and has vowed to cut refugee numbers in half pandering to far right populists. A close match in political leaders as well as football history - let the best team win!

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Tenuous Politics Football World Cup 2018: 1st Round.

On June 14th the World Cup kicked off.   Call it a coping strategy.  Call it first rate global analysis.  Call it a bit of time wasting.  Here is my tenuous political take on the first round of the tournament.   

2 nations met in the opening match who are both adept at using football for political ends. As they chatted over the demolition of the Saudi football team Putin and Prince Salman must have been feeling pretty happy with themselves.
It is a year this week that Saudi Arabia launched their economic assault against their Arabic neighbours/ rivals (and world cup hosts in 2022) Qatar. Using their football federation they have attempted to take over the running of the Arabic Football area and have refused to allow Qatari refs to take charge of games involving Saudi Teams in their Champions League. Critically the day before Saudi used their votes and their acolytes including Bahrain and the UAE to award the World Cup to the USA and others in 2026 rather than their fellow Arab League State Morocco (who also lost narrowly today). Futher cementing the bond between Trump and Salman (Saudi being one of Islamic countries that avoided his travel ban last year) and isolating Qatar. Significantly Iran narrow victors against Morocco refused to back either. Cuba also abstained if you're interested
Meanwhile Putin has used the platform of the World Cup to cement his power despite the UK led attempt to destabilise it in the preceding months. Perhaps unsurprisingly Russia also backed Trump's bid for the 2026 Cup The opening match was a bit of a proxy also for the Syrian conflict with the Saudis- who have funded the Anti -Assad rebels. A 5 nil pretty victory must have confirmed Putin in his arrogance
Meanwhile tonight the workers' cooperative led Spain (sacking their manager 2 days before tournament) meet old rivals the pragmatic Euro champs Portugal. Who said football wasn't political, No me!

Argentina v Iceland - battle of the economic crises this afternoon.
In 2000-2 the Argentinian economy and state essentially collapsed due to neo-liberal policies applied brutally in 1990s. (See picture below) A foretaste for the end of the 00s where the banking collapse almost destroyed Iceland who were heavily reliant on finance capital.
Argentinian football was deeply affected and the humiliating perfomance in the 2002 World Cup (England even beat them!) underlined this. Messi and Aguero were both becoming teenagers at that time - Messi had to leave the country aged 12 as his team cashed in and went to Barcelona. Aguero's team Independiente kept him for a couple of years until he moved to Atletico Madrd as a 16 year old. Even with Messi at is prime it took well over for a decade for Argentina to recover - they reached the final last time in 2014 and the Copa America final twice in 2015 and 2016. Always runners up though: falling at last hurdle. Again facing an economic precipice this maybe one last shot for this team - Messi being 31 next week..
Iceland are in their first World Cup a remarkable achievement given the collapse of their infrastructure10 years ago. In aftermath of 2008 crisis even Scotland finished above them in 2010 World Cup qualifying group. We beat them twice! Turning to developing the grassroots facilities and allowing Icelandic young footballers to go abroad (as Argentina did) they have turned this round. This culminated in getting to the quarter finals of the Euros in 2016 humiliating England along the way May be a tournament too far but the fact they are here at all is amazing.
 Germany v Mexico - electoral battles.
The political classes of both these states face their own crises in the next week. Angela Merkel the leader of World Cup holders Germany that dominates the EU could be forced out of office tomorrow because her right wing Home Secretary Seehoffer wants to introduce a hard line immigration policy in defiance of her and the EU. The right wing in Germany have been bolstered by the elevation of the hard right Freedom Party into power in Austria in December 2017. It is likely the coalition will fall causing another election. Ironically the strength of the current German team has been based on fully integrating 1st and 2nd generation immigrants to amazing effect.. Sami Khedira's brother is part of England's opponents Tunisia tomorrow. Ozil's grandparents came from Turkey in the aftermath of WW2
Meanwhile in Mexico - also the target of virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric this time from Trump and his "wall" - have an election on 1st July where it is likely a left wing Populist leader Obrador will win. He has a radical economic and anti-corruption programme which is shaking up the establishment. His roots are in the PRD which 30 years ago in 88 - came from almost nowhere to win the Presidency in what was seen as a one party state in Mexico. He currently has a 17 point lead and his victory will shake Trump to his foundations! It remains to be seen if the Mexican team can follow his lead today. Viva Obrador!

England v Tunisia. Battle of austerity.
Tunisia was the starting point of the Arab Spring in 2011. Since then there has been more or less a democratic regime. In fact they began a trial of their dictator Ben Ali last month. It was in absentia though as Ali now lives in Saudi Arabia. One problem though is that the Tunisian government are captured by the IMF.
A loan was given to the country in December 2016 with the usual conditions of privatisation and cuts. A visit from the IMF in April this year demanded more changes. The government duly delivered with an increase on fuel prices announced on June 1st. This followed price increases for basics like bread which sparked major protests in January (see below) - this has caused major polarisation between rich and poor.
Their national football team symbolises thier freedom as it was recognised immediately after their independence in 1956. Their first international was against Algeria who did so well at last World Cup(in the middle of the war) in 1957.The Tunisian team have become reliant on players with familial links to the country -although they have been at the World Cup 4 times they have struggled in recent years - last winning the African cup of Nations in 2004
England have also suffered 8 years of austerity although self imposed not by the IMF - though the Premier League has been a cocooned protected zone for the super -wealthy footballers. Uniquely at this tournament Brexit England are the only squad with no players from outside their domestic league. Who will triumph between the two discredited economic models!

Poland v Senegal. Present at this afternoon's match will be Senegalese President Macky Sall who will meet with Putin before hand to discuss Gazprom's involvement in Senegal's oil fields. Sall s brother had to resign in 2016 from a leading oil company due to conflict of interests. The Senegal state has recently teargassed his own population in April this year (see below) over the proposal to prevent smaller political parties contesting future Presidential elections.
Senegal have struggled since reaching the quarters in the 2002 World Cup (the year they won the African Cup of Nations). In fact this is first time they have qualified since. This is Africa's last chance to win a first game here with all others narrowly losing after England s last gasp winner over Tunisia.
Poland have a crisis of their own with the EU trying to overturn the far right government's reform of the courts. The Law and Justice Government are also attacking abortion rights in the country and seeking control over Universities. This has sparked demonstrations and occupations across all of Poland in the last few weeks. Backing Britain's governmental boycott of Cup the right wing Polish President Duda will not attend!


Iran v Spain. Battle of the almost dropped players.
Tonight's match sees Iran attempting to build on their opening lucky victory against Morocco. It their line up is the same their left back Hajsafi and attacking no. 7 Shojaei are worth watching. They were dropped from the squad after playing with their Greek league team Panionios in a European tie in Israel against Tel Aviv. Iran does not recognise Israel and accordingly punished the players. Their Portugese born manager (ex deputy at Man United) Queiroz intevened and the players were allowed to re-join the squad. As more Iranian players are operating at a high level in Europe which recognises Israel as a member of UEFA this is likely to be a recurring problem. However the team now have official backing and President Rouhani watched the match wearing a strip last Friday (see below).
Never dropped but Spain defender Gerard Pique announced in the immediate aftermath of the contested Catalonian referendum last October that he was prepared to stand down from the Spanish team because of his support for Catalan independence and some low level booing when playing for Spain. The same issue has seen Guardiola reprimanded for by the English Premier League 4 of Spain's line up against Portugal were Barcelona players (although Iniesta announced his retirement) and 3 of them are Catalans. The manager was happy to keep Pique - although he has now been sacked. The Spanish success depends on cooperation between the Spanish players - mainly Barcelona and Real Madrid stalwarts! Wonder if any of the 3 potentially banned players could score?

 France v Peru.
There is an element of people power and solidarity around this Peruvian team. Captain Guerrero was initially banned after testing postive for cocaine - he claims it was a tainted test coming from an unclean tea cup! All captains of his opposing teams in this group France, Australia and Denmark stated their wish for Guerreo to play and there was demos of thousands across Peru. The ban was cut and Gurerro can now play.
This World Cup is a big deal for Peru - the right wingPresident called a national holiday when they qualified last year. He is no longer in post having to resign in March 2018 due to a corruption scandal. Unfortunately the main opposition forces in Peru are right wing populists "Popular Force" led by Keiko Fujimori - the daughter of 90s President who introduced neo -liberalism at same time as Menem in Argentina. Unusually for Latin America the left are relatively weak largely because of the legacy of the defeat of the Shining Path and Maoism in Peru which Fujimori senior carried out using massive armed forces. People have taken to the streets though particularly over the pardon granted to Fujimori in December 2017. Expect massive celebrations if they beat Les Bleus this afternoon.

Serbia v Switzerland.
Tonight's match has an added dimension with the struggle for Kosovar Independence in the background. The Swiss had a relatively open policy to immigration through the 2000s which was only challenged in the last few years by an anti-migration referendum (the most common way legislation is made in Switzerland) Their first team has a number of Kosovo Albanian refugees whose family arrive at that time - notably Shaqiri and Xhaka (whose brother plays for Albania) from the English leages. Shaqiri even has a Kosovar flag on one of his boots.
Serbian striker Mitrovic has been pretty dismissive saying if they support Kosovo why don't they play for them. Kosovo was recognised by UEFA in 2016 - though are not allowed to play Serbia for obvious reasons (they do not recognise the state). Although the Swiss players took citizenship way before the Kosova football team was recognised.
Serbia was wracked with protest in 2017 (see below) over the election of Presidnt Vucic - seen as introducing right wing authoritarianism. They have big ties with Putin's Russia so will get big support tonight.
Panama v England
England's lunchtime opponents are at their first ever World Cup. Like Peru a national holiday was called last October when they qualified over the USA. A massive achievement for a country of 4 million. The coach Gomez is worth watching, a Colombian who is one of the few managers that has got 3 different unfancied teams to the World Cup - Colombia in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002 and now Panama. England beat Colombia in 98 (subject of a Kirsty McColl song!).
The Panamaian President Varlea has faced protests this year in the second city Colon near the Panama Canal (see below - banner saying Colon not for sale). He has introduced a free trade zone in the city and opened it up to corrupt construction contracts - which are a scandal across Latin America involving the Brazilian company Odebrecht. This extreme neo-liberal form of gentrification is seen as an attack on the poor.
The stratification of the mega rich was also involved in England's last encounter with Panama - the leaking of the Panama Papers in 2015 which showed the tax dodging methods of off-shore companies organised by the Panamanian law firm Fonseca (although the tax dodges were not in Panama). The papers named ex PM Cameron as one of the clients. Cameron resigned during Euro 2016 4 days before the England Manager Roy Hodgson did...
Can this Panama formation cause equivalent ructions?

Spain v Morocco
Morocco play their last game in the World Cup tonight after narrowly losing their first two games. As mentioned before their first loss came before the tournament when losing out to the USA in hosting the 2026 World Cup. The Moroccan regime is attempting to spread its influence in the West and across the Islamic world - in oppostion to Saudi in particular (who also play their last game today) who voted against them hosting the World Cup.
It also has faced a popular uprising in the Northern Rif region since October 2016 (see below) - caused by the death of a fish seller who was challenging authorities regulations on markets. Like in Panama this movement was against gentrification, but also for democracy (Morocco is still a monarchy) and Berber identity rights. The army was called in by the KIng of Morocco and the leaders jailed - one of them Zefzazi is currently undertaking a hunger strike after facing solitarty confinement. The West have been generally silent about this.
Morocco and Spain have a long history with Morocco ruling Spain for 800 years. Spain still permanently occupies two towns in Morocco - Ceuta and Melilla. Spain have been fairly impressive without a manager who was sacked almost in parallel with the Spanish PM Rajoy who had to resign at the start of June over corruption claims. Viva the collective!

Australia v Peru.
Australia have an outside chance this afternoon of qualifying for the second round of the World Cup for the first time ever. This would be welcome in a tournament that is so far going to form. The Socceroos have an international flavour about them of first and second generation Australians - in the A-League (the Oz soccer league) only around 1% of the players are from an indigenous background.
Oz's team come from a variety of backgounds Lebanese (Nabbout), Serbian (Rogic), German (Mooy), Turkish (Behich), Croatian (Jedinak). Their young hope for the future 19 year old Daniel Arzani who made a difference when he came on against Denmark was born in Iran. This reflects the multi-cultural nature of Australia.
However new immigrants coming to Australia may not get that chance to play for the national team. Although Trump's horrible anti-immigrant attitude and use of cages on the Mexican border has gained much publicity in the last week - Australia detain asylum seekers on islands miles from the country - notably the Nauru detention camp (see below) in terrible conditions. This was introduced by right wing Iraq war supporting Howard's government in the 00s as a "Pacific Solution". Despite protests and reports of horrific conditions the Nauru camp has remained open. On Friday June 15th an asylum seeker (also from Iran) killed himself - just as the World Cup was getting started. This brings the total who have died in the detention camps to 12. The system has been backed by the two main parties in Australia.
The International migration crisis is one of many that is ongoing as the World Cup continues.

 England v Belgium.
Like their evening opponents Belgium have always struggled with their identity. The team is currently a mixture of Flemish born speakers - De Bruyne, Alderweid, Vertonghen and the more urban French speakers the Hazard brothers, Lukaku, Kompany etc. The brutal imperial legacy of Belgium in Africa is also represented with a key core of players having Congolese routes - Lukaku and Boyata's fathers were footballers in Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo, Batshuyai had the opportunity to play for the DRC. Holding the team together well is Spaniard and ex Premier League boss Martinez. Belgium have rarely used foreign coaches although a Scot was one of the first managers of the national team. So Martinez marks a shift Their last coach Wilmots was viewed as arrogant and aloof and was also a right wing Francophone politician for the party of Government for a couple of years.
Belgium hosts England's other opponents at the moment - the EU! - but the Belgian government imposes its own policies - again notably on immigration - with a hardline right wing position. There are make-shift immigration camps in Brussels and there has been protests over mass deportations of refugees. to Sudan (see below) in cahoots with the Khartoum government, The EU is having a summit today in Belgium on the topic of immigration with Merkel feeling pressure from the right wing. Could she shockingly get knocked out like the German team too!