On the surface, sitting in the front row and surrounded by many of those who want him out, Sepp Blatter showed little emotion. On the inside, as the way he has ruled Fifa for 17 years was picked apart by the three candidates bidding for his job, he may well have been seething.
He couldn’t resist. He just couldn’t resist. Just when it seemed Jose Mourinho had answered his critics by showing he could lose with good grace – we weren’t good enough, the better team won, congratulations to them etc etc – so, as the television analysts pointed out, he went and spoiled it all.
The cries of foul may have receded slightly since football’s most open secret – a winter World Cup for Qatar in 2022 – was all but confirmed, pending being rubber-stamped by FIFA’s executive committee. But the resentment in some quarters will linger for weeks and months to come.
He can certainly talk a good game – in three languages in fact. And if prizes were given for glossy manifestos he would already have the keys to Sepp Blatter’s private office in Zurich.
The Africa Cup of Nations is not some fly-by-night, irrelevant competition. It is the continent’s equivalent of the European Championship finals, the Copa America, the Gold Cup or the Asian Cup.
“Are there any questions about football?” asked a tired-looking Prince Ali, perhaps more in hope than expectation, after answering yet another about his FIFA presidential credentials as he blinked into a phalanx of whirring cameras.
When Michel Platini announced last summer that he had decided against taking on Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency, most seasoned observers of election processes shrugged their shoulders and looked beyond Uefa for a credible challenger to Blatter’s turbulent reign.
Back in the late 1990s as a passionate Tottenham Hotspur fan – which I still am – I was mesmerised watching David Ginola. He may have played at a number of other clubs, both in England and his native France, but it was at Tottenham where his silky skills were wholeheartedly embraced by the fans who elevated him to near-legendary status.
A courageous and defiant move by FIFA’s most principled young reformer or a foolhardy risk that could backfire? Reaction to Prince Ali’s overnight announcement that he has decided to take on Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency looks certain to move into overdrive in the coming days.
As Sepp Blatter strapped in his seatbelt, lay back and sipped his first drink, alcoholic or otherwise, as he flew out of Morocco following one of the most tempestuous weeks of his 16-year FIFA presidency, he probably allowed him a wry smile.
Another clever delaying tactic deliberately timed so that Sepp Blatter can turn his attention to retaining the presidency without the distraction of corruption allegations? Or, just as plausibly, a clear signal of intent to try and repair the damage and get to the bottom of a saga which, it now transpires, could involve criminal activity by football administrators?
It was supposed to be all about closure for FIFA. Done and dusted. No more subterfuge. No more finger pointing. Time to move on. After all, there’s a presidential election next year.
Why now, who leaked the information and what could the impact be on FIFA? Those are just three intriguing questions being asked in the wake of the stunning revelations in the New York Daily News that Chuck Blazer, who strode the corridors of power at FIFA for more than a generation, turned FBI informant to spy on several of his colleagues.
When UEFA president Michel Platini decided to expand the European Championship finals from 16 to 24 countries, starting in 2016 in his homeland, the purists threw their collective arms up in the air, screamed “Zut alors” – or far worse – and accused the Frenchman of being seriously misguided.
Publish Michael Garcia’s report or be damned. The clarion call to FIFA from a collective raft of influential football powerbrokers, anti-corruption watchdogs and vast swathes of the media intensifies on an almost daily basis.