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.
‘Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.’ Chances are, Sepp Blatter will not be familiar with the lyric. Unless, that is, he is an avid follower of rock music.
Back in his comfort zone on the banks of the Dead Sea in his native Jordan, the Prince who would be king charmed the pants off visiting delegates and dignatories with his trademark mixture of humility and hospitality.
Imagine the outcry if a leading English club was deducted three points just as it was about to clinch the Premier League title – for no other reason than being a victim of its own integrity and honesty.
The politics of football have long been rife with allegations of corruption, hypotheses, behind-the-scenes manoeuvring and a fair share of proven malpractise.
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.