If you thought Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore talked delusional shite in newspaper interviews… you’d be right. But even he can only watch and learn from the master, one Joseph S Blatter. Since the May 27th arrests of a number of his Fifa Executive Committee colleagues (you know, the committee over which HE presides), Blatter has largely limited comments to his and Fifa’s immediate future, having decided to “lay down my mandate at an extraordinary elective congress”… whatever that means. Last weekend, however, he spoke to Mark Miserius and Willem Feenstra of Dutch daily newspaper De Volksrant, an appropriately-titled publication given the half-folksy, half-rant style of his answers. The questions were a mix of softball and pertinent, but successfully revealed Blatter’s bizarre thought processes, if that isn’t too kind a phrase for what goes on in his head.
Miserius and Feenstra deserve huge credit. This was no puff piece. They quickly likened him to “a ruler who stubbornly continues to govern while his kingdom is on the verge of collapse” and bluntly labelled him “a lame duck,” although this may be naïve. “Many football associations are still asking me to stay on,” Blatter quickly noted, as he has before every broken promise to leave. And “when the questions become awkward or when he doesn’t like them, he becomes evasive by relating one of his numerous anecdotes or by complementing conversation partners on their appearance.” Or by asking, apropos of nothing whatsoever “how can Ajax lose to Rapid Wien?” Credit to them for making him do that.
The worst thing about the interview was that even the most bizarre stuff was no great shock. For example: “I do not need any help when it comes to my personal integrity,” or the caption on a portrait by Swiss artist Rolf Knie: “Football is Sepp Blatter. Sepp Blatter is football,” and the fact that Blatter “glows with pride when he speaks about it” rather than cringing with angry embarrassment like the rest of us. And at one stage, “Blatter’s eye is caught by the gold-framed photograph of Nelson Mandela across the room: ‘He’s smiling at me’, says Blatter, and he smiles back.” Time for your medication, Mr. Blatter.
Every journalist who has sat through his all-too-many press conferences in the wake of Fifa corruption allegations will recognise this muck. But for Blatter to come out with it in the controlled environment of a press interview remains disturbing. Certainly if Blatter controlled the photographs of himself accompanying the on-line version of the interview, he has delusions of visual credibility. One close-up of him winking into the camera would give anyone flashbacks for weeks. Blatter’s personal assistant was present, presumably throughout, although you’d wonder why she didn’t intervene more often to save her bosses blushes, as she had to when he all-but-blamed Uefa for the bomb threat to Fifa’s congress in May. The threat “wasn’t personal,” but Blatter added: “UEFA felt that the congress should have been cancelled. Then came the bomb threat.” Understandably puzzled by Blatter unilaterally bringing Uefa into the discussion, the interviewers asked if he thought Uefa “had anything to do with it.”
His reply was straight from the same “what does that even meanhe i?” file as the “lay down my mandate” stuff: “You are from the Netherlands, you have a wide horizon.” An dmmediately cited Uefa again: “Uefa said they didn’t want to hold elections at this congress.” Under further pressure, Blatter, technically correctly, denied saying Uefa was behind the bomb threat, but repeated the “wide horizon” and Uefa didn’t want the congress to be held stuff, adding that “they were considering a boycott.” Only then did Blatter’s PA pipe up “just to be clear” that Blatter “never said that Uefa was behind the bomb threat.” By this late stage, Blatter didn’t have to. He’d made his point, just outwith of the laws of libel. And he wasn’t finished with Uefa, particularly its president Michel Platini, a candidate to pick up the mandate Blatter had decided to “lay down,” and so a tangible threat to any plans Blatter may have had to pick the mandate back up himself.
He declared: “There is an anti-Fifa virus in Nyon” (the French city where Uefa is headquartered) but insisted: “I always distinguish between Nyon & the member associations of UEFA.” Then: “In 2007, when Platini was elected UEFA president, we were still best friends. Soon after, in 2008, this was no longer the case.” So, what changed? A dispute over Financial Fair Play, or clashes between club and international football calendars? Nothing so trivial… “At the opening ceremony of the 2008 European Championship in Switzerland, at the reception, I briefly spoke with the Swiss president Couchepin. He said: ‘I’ll see you at the match.’ It then turned out that I had been placed eight seats away from the centre, far away from him. The president of FIFA had been sidelined. Just sidelined.” For… ****’s… sake…
The interviewers encouraged Blatter to elaborate on his relationship with Platini. They hadn’t needed to. It was classic Blatter. More ham than a Game of Thrones box-set (there’ll be comments – ED). He claimed he and Platini were “like father and son,” when “together we prepared his board membership of both Fifa and Uefa” and “he became president of Uefa with my direct support.” But, apparently, Platini “intimidated” Blatter’s family during May’s congress (the old “it hurts my family more than it hurts me” line inevitably gets an airing). Platini made Blatter’s brother Peter cry by asking him to “tell Sepp to withdraw from the election or he will go to prison.” And, surely just for effect: “His personal assistant gives out a cry. Obviously, she hears this for the first time, too.”
Qatar, and Platini’s ludicrous vote for it as the 2022 World Cup venue, is eventually referenced by the interviewers, although Blatter would doubtless have got to it eventually, confident that his own grubby role in the emirate’s bid has been overshadowed by the, handy, revelation that he didn’t vote for them himself. “I cannot comment on that,” Blatter said, before… erm… commenting: “You are investigative journalists. You wish to know the truth. You should comment on it,” the sort of journalistic attention he has sooooo welcomed about his own affairs. “Everyone is curious about what has happened. But there is something wrong, that much is certain.”
The interviewers had focused both on Blatter’s “resignation” and its rushed nature (“the press room hadn’t even been prepared”). “I’m always good for a surprise” was how Blatter dismissed the second point. But he was caught lying about why he “resigned” four days after his presidential re-election. Initially he claimed that “the mounting pressure on Fifa… left me with no choice,” which was surely more a reason for not seeking re-election at all. And the same thought occurred to the interviewers when Blatter specified the “pressure” applied by US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch after the pre-congress arrests. She “stood there together with the head of the FBI, portraying FIFA as an enterprise that resembles the mafia,” Blatter moaned. “That sounds odd,” noted the interviewers, probably not the first time they’d thought that. That was “two days before your re-election…what happened in the four days between your re-election and…your resignation?”
At this, Blatter was “visibly irritated,” and exhumed the old “don’t wish to go into details now because of the on-going investigations” excuse, which is usually followed, once the investigations have on-gone, by “it’s time to draw a line under” such matters. But, unintentionally, Blatter had linked his resignation to Fifa corruption. This, of course, was completely off-message. He’d squeezed the party line into a rather different question about the Fifa’s “image,” claiming that “the people…arrested are suspects in matters that occurred within their confederations, not within Fifa.” This was demonstrable nonsense, as the confederations are formally constituent organisations of Fifa, something a properly-functioning president would know. Commendably, the interviewers weren’t having that, reminding Blatter that “some of them were also on the Fifa Executive Committee.” “They were with Fifa… part of the Fifa family,” Blatter generously admitted. “But,” he added, preposterously, “What they are being accused of has nothing to do with Fifa. Fifa has no influence on these matters, let alone Fifa’s president.”
Erm… well… Leaving aside the “matters” concerning the Fifa World Cup tickets and qualifying matches, the Fifa World Cup venue votes and the 2011 Fifa presidential election, the remaining “matters” are on Fifa’s official tournament calendar, the most lucrative being the 2016 “Copa America Centenario,” which received what the indictment called “Fifa’s imprimatur” and a place on the calendar in September 2014, when the tournament bribery scheme was already up-and-running. It’s another age-old question but if Blatter “has no influence” on those matters, and could claim that “never in my life could I have foreseen something as disturbing and shocking as this” then what exactly does he “influence”? And, after the denial, the deflection. “Help me to find the truth,” he pleaded. He meant it too, as he “(slapped) his right leg repeatedly to underscore his words.” Damascene conversion to transparency? No chance. “There should be an investigation as to why this happened two days before the congress. Why were there journalists of The New York Times in the lobby of the… hotel at 6 o’clock in the morning? They had no reason to be there.”
The interviewers could have told him: “Because the arrested officials were in the same place at once so it saved several FBI agents travelling to several different countries to make the same arrest several times. And it was a huge news story, so the authorities told the paper… don’t tell me you’ve never tried to manipulate the media for your own ends…isn’t that why we’re here, you grimacing f**kwit”? On balance, though, they were probably wise not to.
The interview concluded in suitably Blatter-esque style, a cocktail of wistful nonsense and a cavernous self-awareness deficit. “I am not in my last months at Fifa,” he protested, re-aligning the Gregorian calendar…unless 27th February 2016 (“very, very, very far away”) isn’t his leaving date…(cough) “No, no, no, no, I’ve been given permission to talk directly with the Pope,” he added, possibly a joke which got lost in translation and possibly exposing how the Fifa presidency had diminished over his tenure… didn’t popes need permission to talk to Fifa presidents in predecessor Joao Havelange’s day? He explained, with his trademark modesty, that if he had attended the Women’s World Cup in Canada, “nobody would be interested in the World Cup matches any more, everything would be focused on Blatter. I protected the game by not going.”
Naturally, he wasn’t protecting himself against possible legal consequences. “My lawyers… are quite sure that nothing will happen (if) there is no arrest warrant… however, the system works in such a way that one may be interrogated when visiting a country where America has influence.” He failed to elaborate on what the “system” could possibly want to interrogate him about. Oh… and African confederation president Issa Hayatou is “the most loyal man in my entourage… a man on whom I can count.” The man who challenged Blatter for the Fifa presidency in 2002, one of five Fifa vice-presidents who “took Blatter into an ante-room and strongly advised him to resign” (Andrew Jennings, in his 2005 book Foul) at that year’s congress.
But the man who followed Blatter in trying to discredit the FBI for the Zurich arrests “when they could have arrested them on the American continent” and refused to back up his sinister assertion that “there is a reason.” No wonder Blatter trusts him. Yet somehow, after all the bluster and bullshit, Blatter still left the “best” until last. Having denied any remote responsibility for, knowledge of or ability to prevent any corruption which had ever taken place within Fifa, its executive committee (chair: Mr S Blatter) or its constituent organisations, he was finally asked: “Will you still feel responsible for Fifa after your farewell?”
“One always remains responsible,” he replied. If only that had ever, ever been remotely close to true…
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