By Andy Cole
17 December 2009
England’s bid to stage the 2018 World Cup will ultimately succeed or fail on the basis of 24 votes cast by Fifa’s Executive Committee (ExCo), so it was heartening to visit Nigeria this week and witness the enthusiasm for English football of one of those 24 voters, Dr Amos Adamu.
It is no secret that Dr Adamu, like many of his compatriots, follows the Premier League closely. Between touching down in Abuja early on Tuesday until leaving late at night, I saw a whole range of English club shirts being worn, from Manchester United to Chelsea to Everton.
The amount of African players in England has helped, from Nigeria’s Kanu to John Obi Mikel to Ghana’s Michael Essien. That trio all contributed messages of support for an England bid presentation personalised for Dr Adamu and Nigerian Football Association officials.
Dr Adamu also happens to be a lifelong Manchester United fan so the delegation, led by Lord Triesman, took him a small gift, a special video of two of the most famous minutes in United’s history – the end of the 1999 European Cup final. I narrated the action on the tape.
It is not for Dr Adamu to go public with his voting intentions at this stage, of course, and nor would anyone expect him to. The vote does not happen until next December and he will make up his mind on the merits of the contenders. But Dr Adamu’s passion for English football is obvious and I got the impression that he truly believes in England’s bid.
It is an honour for me just to be involved as a bid ambassador, and not for the first time I was humbled by my duties. Our trip included a visit to an Abuja children’s home in one of the capital’s suburbs, Karu. I have been fortunate to make a living in football, I’ve earned a few quid, and I am able to provide a good upbringing for my own children. Still, it always hits home very hard quite how lucky I am on visits like this.
Two of the most recent newcomers to the home, where many of the kids are orphans, were a pair of beautiful baby girls. They had been abandoned in the street. Hearing their story brought tears to my eyes. There were lots of older kids too, and I had a kickabout with some of them. They all follow English football. They knew who I was because I played for United.
What’s all this got to do with football and a World Cup bid? A lot, actually, because however twee it sounds, football can be a force for good. And the English FA, in association with the African federation, CAF, and via the English FA international development programme, has been working on projects – including but not limited to football – across Africa, for a decade. Yes, we went to see Dr Adamu this week because we’re bidding for the World Cup, but I’m proud to say that lots of other visits – and investment – happen anyway, as should be the case. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I feel comfortable to be an ambassador because we’ve got a good World Cup bid this time, and we’re doing things the right way. If that wasn’t the case, I’d say so. I spent my career telling it how I saw it, which sometimes alienated a few people, but I am not going to change my ways now.
On the theme of honest expression, an otherwise inspiring week was marred for me when an agent I have never met phoned from a firm that used to represent me, asking for commission. For what, I don’t know. They have done nothing for me for years.
I’m sure there are good agents out there, but plenty of parasites and chancers, too.
McCarthy was smart to use his squad
There has been a lot of fuss about Mick McCarthy fielding a second-string Wolves side against Manchester United on Tuesday night but I believe he acted sincerely in the interests of his club. Let’s face it: it is entirely plausible that his supposed “full-strength” team could have gone to United and lost 4-0 or 5-0.
His “second-string” lost 3-0 so there’s not a lot of difference. And to be brutally honest, whoever Wolves field will be much of a muchness.
Ask yourself another question: in which game are Wolves more likely to win the points that will help keep them in the Premier League? Away at United or at home to Burnley?
That’s a no-brainer, it’s the game coming up. That’s where McCarthy is focusing his resources. That’s why he rested players. It’s a squad game nowadays.
Everyone does it. In my view the degree to which they do it is just quibbling.
The fee for Andy Cole’s column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar
This column first appeared in The Independent.