Meet the one Englishman to leave FIFA HQ with a smile on his face
FROM the shellshocked look in their faces, you'd have thought this was a retreat from Moscow. Defeated at the hands of Russia in the bidding for the 2018 World Cup just as totally as Napoleon ever was at the gates of the Russian capital, the English FA's delegation had irony heaped on humiliation at Zurich airport on Friday, as they were asked to wait for their delayed flight in the Panorama Lounge.
WINNING STREAK: Mike Lee has been the driving force behind a number of successful bids for major sporting events in recent years (Getty Images)
"It's Sepp's final insult," one of them said.
This might just be one conspiracy theory too far, because also left hanging around at Zurich airport was the one Englishman who did win something from FIFA this week.
Mike Lee, at least, was able to return to his London office knowing that he had pulled off yet another sports bidding coup. Lee was the PR mastermind who guided Qatar, a country smaller than Wales, whose national football team has never been ranked in the world's top 100, to the status of 2022 World Cup hosts.
If you wanted to apply Napoleon's adage about being surrounded by "lucky generals" to the staging of modern day sports event, then Lee would be top of your recruitment list. In the past five years, it seems that there has not been a single major international sports event that Lee has not been involved in.
As media director for Seb Coe's bid team, Lee took much credit when London won the rights to stage the 2012 Olympics.
In the five years since, Lee has set up his own consultancy firm, Vero Communications, which has had a queue of international federations and bidding cities beating a path to its West End offices.
It was Lee's firm that ran the campaign to get Rugby sevens into the Olympics. When John Henry flew in to Britain earlier this year to wrest the ownership of Liverpool from George Gillett and Tom Hicks, it was Lee who was constantly at his side.
And it was Lee who formulated the PR strategy that saw Rio de Janeiro win the right to host the 2016 Olympics - beating, don't forget, the hot favourites Chicago, ignominious first-round losers, just as England were on Thursday, despite for them the prestigious presence at the vote of President Barack Obama. Maybe Prince William ought not to feel too bad.
"The world's changing," Lee said on Friday night, finally back in London after one of the most hectic periods in his lifetime.
"The International Olympic Committee showed, by picking China and then Latin America, with Rio, and FIFA has shown by choosing South Africa for the World Cup, and now Russia and Qatar, that it is time for these events to be taken to new places.
"Everyone said that the World Cup in South Africa would be a disaster, that they wouldn't work. And they were proved wrong.
"Countries in western Europe need to realise that they don't have a God-given right to stage these events all the time."
Lee, 52, is from the same generation of Labour spin doctors that gave us Alastair Campbell and Charlie Whelan. Yet while the latter pair has moved into the semi-retirement of memoir-writing and fishing on the Dee, Lee has made himself a millionaire and one of Britain's few significant figures in international sport.
He began his career as a media adviser to David Blunkett. In 1992, he took the job as spokesman at the newly formed English Premier League, which led to him being headhunted to run media operations for European football governing body, UEFA.
It was his Labour party connections and insight into the running of international sport that made Lee an obvious choice when the London 2012 bid team hired him in 2003.
Given Lee's ingrained knowledge of football, though, perhaps the England 2018 bid's biggest media mistake was in not hiring him. Lee says: "I had a couple of conversations last year with Andy Anson", the England 2018 bid chief executive, "but it just didn't work out."