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?
The mad last-minute scramble is over and the dust is settling but the repercussions rumble on. Clubs being tapped up, chairmen squabbling over staged payments, frustrated coaches, disaffected players, disappointed fans. The summer transfer window may provide excitement and despair in equal measure but is it actually fair in producing a level playing field?
What’s good for the goose, as the old saying goes, is good for the gander. When former FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon entered the presidential race earlier this week by casting aspertions on both on his rival Michel Platini and the outgoing Sepp Blatter, he must have realised reaction to his comments would be swift.
Under pressure and backed into a corner? No problem, let’s take the weight off our shoulders by setting up a Task Force, pat ourselves on the back, send it away and hope for the best.
You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. But if things don’t work out, I’ll willingly scratch someone else’s. Welcome to the world of shifting allegiances and alliances that have become the hallmark of footballing presidential elections.
As he prepares to show his face on FIFA duty for the first time outside Switzerland since the sky came crashing down on his scandal-tarnished organisation, Sepp Blatter could be forgiven for enjoying a wry smile on the flight to St Petersburg for the 2018 World Cup draw.
In a week’s time, FIFA’s new-look executive committee is due to decide on a date for the eagerly-awaited extraordinary congress that will elect a successor to Sepp Blatter after 17 often turbulent years in charge.
When FIFA’s new chief ethics investigator Cornel Borbely took over back in March, he insisted he would not be influenced or sidetracked by anyone within the heirarchy of football’s world governing body when it came to making independent decisions.
At the beginning of April, in the wake of serious allegations against him, I interviewed Asian football supremo Dato’ Alex Soosay. The under-fire Malaysian was unequivocal: he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Moreover, the dark days of the Asian Football Confederation’s corruption-tainted past were over, he said.
Let’s distinguish between the highly unlikely and the reality; let’s separate the hyberbole from the facts. Sepp Blatter made the right decision to announce he would be stepping down no matter how upset his legions of supporters in Africa and elsewhere might be. Root and branch reform is now needed at FIFA more than ever to eradicate the stench of rampant corruption.
What tipped him over the edge? Did he walk or was he pushed? Is the net tightening around him in the United States as is being reported? Or was it simply that the sheer weight of pressure and the almost daily dose of bombshell allegations into systemic corruption simply became too much to bear – even for the great survivor?
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.