Where are the leaders?

Published : Aug 08, 2015 00:00 IST

Rudderless leadership... FIFA President Sepp Blatter has stumbled from one controversy to another.-PICS:REUTERS
Rudderless leadership... FIFA President Sepp Blatter has stumbled from one controversy to another.-PICS:REUTERS

Rudderless leadership... FIFA President Sepp Blatter has stumbled from one controversy to another.-PICS:REUTERS

The world of football tries in vain for a convincing candidate to succeed Blatter. Those who have so far put their names forward are quite unconvincing. By Brian Glanville.

Shameless, irrepressible Sepp Blatter! Forced to resign from his long and tarnished reign as FIFA President, though still trying to hang on in office as long as he can manage, he now claims that English opposition to his murky years has been motivated by so called envy, engendered by the election of Brazil’s egregious Joao Havelange at the expense of Sir Stanley Rous at the FIFA congress in Frankfurt just prior to the 1974 World Cup Finals.

“At that point,” Blatter has recently declared to a Swiss magazine of some substance, “England lost their supremacy over their beloved sport and also over athletics. (Athletics?) The English suffer by no longer being able to control football. This is where the attacks against FIFA originated. This envy has been festering for years. Envy is a predicate to jealousy. (Really?) And jealousy is rooted in love. This can however turn to hate. And that’s what happened when the tsunami hit us two days before the Congress.”

Apart from the sheer flagrant illogicality of Blatter’s love-hate nonsense (who did the English supposedly love before Rous was defeated?) this whole outburst is spurious and evasive in the extreme. Yes, there has been long lasting resentment over the way Havelange bribed his passage to Presidential success, using funds extracted from the Brazilian football federation to fly African voters over to Frankfurt. Yes, there have been successive scandals over the greedy behaviour of Havelange in the ensuing 24 years, when the longevity of his FIFA Presidency was an appalling commentary on the organisation and its members at large.

The embarrassing truth is that after the defeat of Rous, the Football Association was simply one of the infinite passive members who simply sat back and allowed Havelange to remain deplorably in power.

It was in fact not until the FIFA election congress in Seoul, South Korea, immediately before the World Cup finals of 2002 that a Football Association voice was heard loudly denouncing Joao Havelange’s dubious successor to the Presidency, Sepp Blatter; and then it was actually that of a Scot: Adam Crozier. At present a television tycoon who has made a great deal of money for himself and his company, Crozier at that time was a controversial figure, whose brief regime at the FA was blemished by numerous contentious decisions. But that day in Seoul, to give him due credit, he did stand up boldly and cogently against Blatter’s tainted regime. Not that it got him or anyone who might have supported him anywhere. Blatter strolled home to yet another Presidential victory, opposed by a flaccid opponent.

But if Havelange bought and bribed his way to initial success, then in the many ensuing years made sure he spread largesse where it would mean support, what of his protege, Blatter? We still cannot fully know how Blatter himself beat the Swede Lennart Johansson so surprisingly and comfortably to the FIFA Presidency when the votes were cast in France before the 1998 World Cup began. For some time Johansson’s candidature seemed done and dusted. He was reported to have a comfortable majority of the votes. He wasn’t perhaps and inspiring or spectacular candidate, but he was known to be honest, conscientious and experienced. True there had been one tactless and embarrassing moment in his regime with UEFA, the European body. He was recorded, after a visit to Africa, as crassly saying that being in a dark room with a group of black people was something of an uneasy experience. But on the eve of the election in France it didn’t seem to have counted against him. There was however a sudden late rush of votes which swept Johansson aside and put Blatter into power. There were rumours of USD50,000 payments being made to potential voters but Blatter denied all knowledge of this and nothing was ever proved. Such was the size of his majority on the initial vote that Johansson simply stood down and did not demand another as he was entitled to. And there alas Blatter has been ever since; till his recent all too belated resignation. Humour has never been his strong point though some of his suggestions (an ironic German journalist once said to me, “Sepp Blatter has 50 new ideas every day and 51 of them are bad!”) have been comical. Such as the suggestion that women footballers should wear short, tight shorts. In jocular fashion, heavily humorous, he also said recently, “I not only see everything, I’m responsible for everything, even for the English women’s own goal at the World Cup recently. Am I responsible for climate change too?”

So far the American FBI hasn’t laid a finger on him, and he maintains his total innocence. What he cannot deny, as I have reported in these pages before, is his nauseating relationship with one miscreant who has indeed been arrested and charged: the Trinidadian Jack Warner who as we learned through his exchange with Blatter as detailed in Andrew Jennings’ masterly book’'Foul!’ could, as boss then of CONCACAF, get anything he wanted out of Blatter at almost any time.

Hard to see any great hope for the future. Not least because FIFA has the ludicrous system whereby every single member has the same single vote. Meaning that it is always so easy for whoever holds the purse strings at FIFA, of whom Blatter has assuredly been one, to gain the support of a myriad of small fry.

Nor can I see any convincing candidates to succeed Blatter in his Presidency. Voices have been heard in favour of Michel Platini but as we so well know he has been a disastrous President of UEFA, outrageously supporting Qatar’s bid to stage the World Cup in its 50-degree centigrade summer heat then despite his duty to his UEFA members, cheerfully going along with the switch of the tournament to the European winter. Once again it should be emphasised that there is no suggestion of money having changed hands (unlike the disturbing case of another great football hero Franz Beckenbauer, allegedly used by Russia and several times reported as liaising with Qatari panjandrums) the word being that the ex-President Sarkozy of France leaned on him to placate Qatar whose mineral rights were being courted.

The world of football tries in vain for a convincing candidate to succeed Blatter. Those who have so far put their names forward are quite unconvincing. Liberia’s top official is one of them. But some years back that great Liberian footballer George Weah had to pay the team’s air fare himself since all funds had been stolen by the elected officials.

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