| Ronaldo, seen here with Brazil captain Cafu, was voted European Footballer of the Year on Monday
London: The year 2002 will always be remembered for Brazil winning the first World Cup finals to be held in Asia. But it will also go down in history as the year in which soccer looked at itself in the mirror and did not like what it saw.
For while the World Cup produced all that is exciting and dramatic about the game, serious cracks appeared in soccer’s financial foundations.
At least during one heady month in June, the game’s financial woes were largely forgotten as 32 teams travelled to South Korea and Japan for what proved to be a surprising and thrilling World Cup — even if, once the first-round shocks ended, some of the football was predictable.
While the upsets produced excitement, they also left the second half of the World Cup denuded of the major confrontations which fans around the world relish. The alternative was interesting enough as Turkey and South Korea made it through to the semi-finals — a first for both nations.
Turkey took advantage as the draw opened up to steal through the rounds before losing to Brazil in the semi-finals.
Turkey’s Hakan Sukur left his mark when he scored the fastest goal in World Cup history after 11 seconds against South Korea in the third-place playoff which Turkey won 3-2.
Fears about co-hosting remain but South Korean and Japanese fans embraced the tournament, giving it a unique vitality — even if interest in Japan waned considerably after their second-round exit to Turkey.
In the end, Brazil, who won every match they played with a rejuvenated Ronaldo ending as the competition’s top scorer on eight goals, beat the poorest Germany side in years 2-0 in the final in Yokohama for their fifth world title.
While the World Cup was largely trouble-free — apart from some highly debatable refereeing decisions — Fifa, the world governing body, had a problematic year.
Allegations that president Sepp Blatter had mis-managed Fifa’s funds had been made for years but the situation reached a peak less than a month before the finals when 11 members of the Fifa executive committee lodged an official complaint against him with the prosecutor’s office in Zurich.
The then Fifa general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen prepared a dossier with the backing of the rebel members which they said detailed Blatter’s mis-deeds and the scene was set for what became a deeply acrimonious special congress into Fifa’s finances in Seoul just days before the World Cup kicked off.
Blatter survived and the following day was re-elected president with a massive and increased majority over his only rival, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon.
Within hours of that success, Blatter dismissed Zen-Ruffinen, who left Fifa after the finals along with 20 other senior staff as Blatter attempted to regain control of the organisation after the greatest crisis in its 98-year history.
This month the Zurich prosecutor dropped the case against Blatter.
Fifa’s problems reflected a greater malaise in the sport. Soccer’s finances have got into a mess, as far as many major clubs and countries are concerned.
The collapse of ITV Digital, a paid-for subscription television service in Britain, and KirchMedia in Germany and problems with televising the game in Italy and throughout Europe, have had the biggest negative impact.
Fiorentina, formed 90 years ago, twice Italian champions and the first winners of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1961, went bankrupt, while several Belgian clubs suffered a similar fate.
Financial problems blighted the game for years in South America but Europe has largely been immune to such woes.
The picture is not looking good. Uefa, European soccer’s governing body are closely monitoring the situation and find themselves in a conundrum.
On the one hand, their showcase competition the Champions League, like the World Cup, embraces many of the best aspects of the game and features the world’s biggest clubs and best players. But it too has felt the chill wind of financial reality and next season will be reduced in size with a knockout stage replacing the second-phase group matches.
The top clubs are unhappy with that as they will lose guaranteed income from the group matches but a smaller television sponsorship deal makes the change inevitable. Uefa are also introducing a licensing system from 2005 to ensure that clubs which take part in European competition are solvent and there is widespread talk across Europe of salary-capping to ensure that more clubs do not end up ruined. (Reuters)