Blatter forever?

Sepp Blatter, like the poor, is always with us. There seems no chance, or if you prefer it, hope, of his not being re-elected next year, at the age of 79, to a fifth term as the President of FIFA, writes Brian Glanville.

Sepp Blatter, in the Biblical expression, like the poor is always with us. There seems no chance, or if you prefer it, hope, of his not being re-elected next year, at the age of 79, to a fifth term as the President of FIFA. He will thus all but rival even his disgraced mentor, Joao Havelange, who, elected so controversially in Frankfurt in 1974 at the expense of England’s Stanley Rous, endured till 1998. And not long ago, found guilty of a massive million dollar scam involving the now defunct ISL Company and World Cup rights, was deprived of his honorary role as ex-President. Which will hardly worry him now in his 90s with all the wealth he had accrued in his greedy Presidential years.

We know more or less how Havelange first got elected. How he raided the funds of the Brazilian football Federation to bribe African nations’ representatives to fly to Frankfurt to vote for him.

In subsequent electoral years, cynically, effectively and scandalously, he had the pliable, buyable voting representatives of world football at his command. Till eventually Presidential elections were a mere one-horse race, when depressingly, he would be re-elected by acclaim. The acclaim of FIFA members who knew they would continue to profit in one way or another from his patronage. So why, you may ask, blame Havelange alone if those who should have questioned and opposed him were so endlessly biddable.

How quickly Havelange took the World Cup away from little Colombia to whom it had been allotted, bloating its size from 16 to an unmanageable 24 teams. Blatter, of course, would bloat it bigger still, to a mathematically more logical but increasingly wearying 32 teams. Quite how Blatter got himself elected in France in 1998 just before that World Cup we may never really know. The election seemed done and dusted for the Swede Lennart Johansson, but there was a sudden very late surge which swept Blatter home. Furiously protesting that he had won fair and square.

That FIFA under his tutelage has remained an Augean stables of an organisation can hardly be disputed; the ultimate outrage having been to allot the 2022 World Cup to baking hot, utterly marginal but hugely rich little Qatar, though Blatter himself rather than a deeply dubious committee was uninvolved.

Yet, just like Havelange, he has the world of football at his feet; or in his capacious pocket. (He was by the way exonerated over the ISL affair, though far from complimented.) The word is that his only conceivable opponent, Michel Platini — a great footballer but so far a wretchedly divisive and meddling President of UEFA — accepts that he has no chance of unseating Blatter. The federations of Asia, Africa, North, Central and South America have reportedly pledged their support in December to Blatter. The man of whom a German journalist once said to me, years ago, after an international match in Miami, “Sepp Blatter has 50 new ideas every day. And 51 of them are bad.”

And what ideas they are! Replacing the throw-in with kick-ins. Widening the goals. Putting women footballers into tight shorts. He was Havelange’s protege and the company he kept could be abysmal. Enough to read the warm affectionate messages he was prone to send to the ineffable Jack Warner, a commanding figure in the CONCACAF hegemony and the autocrat of the Trinidad and Tobago football body. He could, thanks to the vote he commanded, get just what he liked out of Blatter not least huge advances of money which were not sure to be repaid. And which tended to be used for grandiose building projects which did nothing for the game in Trinidad.

Before the FIFA vote took place to award the World Cup venues for 2018 and 2022, it was embarrassing to see David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain, open the doors of 10 Downing Street to this operator, and still more to have Prince William flattering him before the World Cup vote in Zurich. In the event Warner broke his promise and did not even give England his vote. He would at last be ejected from CONCACAF when he was caught redhanded trying to bribe leaders of other Caribbean football authorities.

After Blatter was re-elected in Seoul as FIFA President before the 2002 World Cup he ruthlessly dismissed any member of his organisation who had dared to criticise him or even some who had not. His second in command is still Jerome Valcke.

The man, who, before his promotion, had been sent to New York together with CONCACAF’s second in command Chuck Blazer to try to wrest from Mastercard its long held official position at the World Cup in favour of Visa. The woman judge called both men liars, threw the case out of court and Valcke went back to Zurich to be briefly suspended. When the smoke cleared he was Blatter’s second in command and so he still is.

Some months ago, Ricardo Teixeira resigned in disgrace as head of the organisation organising the coming Brazilian World Cup. Like his mentor and former father-in-law Joao Havelange, who had swept him up from virtual penury and a host of failed enterprises, he had been found guilty of making a fortune out of the ISL scandal. He has seemingly found a safe refuge in Europe. Yet this man has for decades been the most powerful man in Brazilian football. Is it legitimate to wonder why under his aegis matches were allotted to remote Manaus where England are doomed to play their opening group match versus Italy in roasting heat, the original earlier kick-off time being refused owing to television pressure. And then alas we come to the matter of Michel Platini.

Such a superb footballer, such a wretched administrator. As President of Europen body UEFA he has given up hope of succeeding Blatter, he has inexplicably supported Qatar, an outrageous choice as a World Cup host, and even endorsed the tournament being moved to winter; thus disrupting European club football. He has devastated the European Championship finals with his ineptitude, failing to choose Turkey for the finals now to be spread throughout Europe. Such are football’s leaders.