When Sepp Blatter celebrated his 80th birthday this week in the bosom of his ultra-loyal family, perhaps with more than a touch of resentment at seeing his contribution to the game all but ignored during last month’s presidential hand-over, the man who replaced him was just completing his first week in charge.
Fortune favours the brave. Or in Gianni Infantino’s case, being in the right place at the right time.
At the start of the FIFA presidential race, all we heard was the need for a clean campaign, with each candidate energetically promoting his own cause. No finger-pointing, no duplicity, no mud-slinging.
When candidates of opposition political parties in US and British elections, and in many other countries for that matter, want to convince the voting public that they are best person for the job, they frequently go head-to-head on television as an important way of their getting their messages across. So what’s so precious about football?
Sporting traditions are supposed to die hard but not, it seems, when it comes to the FA Cup, football’s oldest – and greatest – domestic knockout competition.
When Sepp Blatter announced a new-look FIFA ethics committee back in March 2012, he did so to weed out corruption within his already tarnished organisation and make sure the cheats never prospered again. Little did he know at the time that he would end up being the committee’s biggest catch.
You can take Thursday’s momentous events on both sides of the Atlantic one of two ways. Either you can argue that on the most eagerly anticipated day in its clean-up process, FIFA had its thunder stolen like never before and the rug humiliatingly yanked from under its feet. Or you can argue that the staggering scale and choking stench of corruption unveiled by US attorney general Loretta Lynch within hours of the game-changing reform measures being announced at FIFA headquarters only served to prove that world football’s governing body is at least looking to the future and acknowledges how desperately it needs a complete overhaul.
The bombshell revelation that Michel Platini – and presumably Sepp Blatter too – faces a possible lifetime ban over “that” payment has crystallised the seriousness of what may or may not have actually been agreed between the pair all those years ago.
Francois Carrard may well be a thoroughly decent man with thoroughly decent principles. But just when he had the opportunity to prove to an increasingly sceptical outside world that he was the right man to enact robust change at FIFA and herald a brand new dawn of transparency and credibility, he came up woefully and depressingly short.
So now we know who’s in and who’s out. A list that at one stage comprised only two candidates suddenly burgeoned to eight – or rather seven after the David Nakhid debacle – in the final hours before the deadline last Monday with the anticipated rush of last-minute applications.
The clock is ticking and the behind-the-scenes horsetrading is in full swing. But like a canny game of poker, nobody is revealing their hand until they are sure of their ground. With Monday night’s deadline for FIFA presidential candidates fast approaching, cards are being clasped tightly to chests in anticipation of who will emerge as challengers for Sepp Blatter’s crown.
As rumours swirled around Zurich on Wednesday that ethics investigators were about to throw the book at Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s headquarters was bathed in thin autumn sunshine and looked a paragon of normality. From the outside at least.
He tried every way he could, for months on end, to distance himself from the ignominy and disgrace that that has snared so many of his former colleagues.
It was never intended to end up like this. Jerome Valcke always expected to step down after eight years as FIFA’s number two once his boss, Sepp Blatter, announced he was calling it a day next February.
It was the word “entities” that got tongues wagging. What was the US attorney general referring to when she opened up a fresh can of worms by warning football to expect a another surge of corruption-related arrests, this time involving entities as well as individuals? Companies? Confederations?