It was one of the most beautiful sounds in football, the tenor and type of words spilling from the tensed lips of a ruined despot as Sepp Blatter voiced his resignation.
It was one of the most beautiful sights in football, the image of Blatter shuffling towards the exit. Auf Wiedersehen, Sepp. Adieu, his royal smugness.
“Why would I step down?” Blatter said on Friday. “That would mean I recognise that I did wrong.” Four days later, the Fifa president did step down. He recognised he had done wrong. He had brought shame on the game for many years, not simply over the warped bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The charge sheet against him is as long as one of the wine lists in Fifa’s Baur au Lac fastness so sweetly raided by the Swiss working with the FBI.
Fifa became trough central under Blatter. For the game, for the world? No. For the greed. Money sluiced through Fifa and, for some, the temptation was there to siphon it off . The racket the FBI heard was racketeering.
A price could also be placed on patronage. Bidding for World Cups became vulnerable to corruption. The process that saw $10-million wired to Jack Warner of Concacaf over bidding for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a murky masterpiece of business subterfuge.
It was scandalous that payments were made to a “legacy” programme before the event even took place. Timing, gentlemen, please. It was no surprise that little evidence has been found of the “African diaspora in Caribbean countries” supposedly benefiting from the $10-million.
Blatter’s lieutenant, Jérôme Valcke, was named in a letter from the South African Football Association which accelerated Tuesday’s denouement. The money trail had wound its way to Blatter’s office, or certainly the desk of his deputy.
Guilt by association, came the instant verdict. This, ultimately, was the tipping point for Blatter, even if he has another nine months to serve. Tuesday did not mark the end but it did mark the beginning of the end of his 17 years in office. And the FBI remains on the case, the hunt goes on, the clock ticks louder.
For football fans, for those desperate for the game to have a purity of spirit lifting it above other sporting pursuits, it is hard to imagine how this week can become better, especially one that climaxes with Lionel Messi and Andrea Pirlo contesting the Champions League final in Berlin.
These special men, especially Messi, a player poised to ascend to the pantheon occupied by Diego Maradona and Pele, can show the watching Blatter what grace is all about, what real service to football is all about. This is a proper legacy programme. This is Messi and Pirlo inspiring children to fall in love with the game, with the glory.
Not Blatter. His legacy will stir only contempt. There will be certain countries which benefited from his largesse, from Fifa’s development Goal programme. There will be many nations who appreciated the voting system under Blatter that allowed Guam, 176th in the world rankings with a population of 165000, to wield the same influence on Fifa presidential elections as Germany, the No1-ranked nation and current world champions.
Blatter ran Fifa as a fiefdom. In the art and craft of staying in power, the Swiss lawyer proved the arch-politician. He focused on Asia and Africa, delivering investment with far more urgency than Uefa nations, and reaped the reward of the support of the Confederation of African Football and the Asian Football Confederation.
Concern over the Blatter election campaign centred on more than sustained outrage over World Cup bidding. He has long been disparaged for assorted felonies against football and civilised life. There was his “tighter shorts” plea to women footballers in 2004. There was his use of the word “slavery” in 2008 to describe Manchester United’s attempt to keep Cristiano Ronaldo, ignoring his lavish pay packet at Old Trafford. There was his 2010 view on John Terry’s dalliance with Wayne Bridge’s ex that “if this had happened in the Latin countries I think he would have been applauded”.
At an excruciating event at Wembley in 2011, Blatter attempted to demonstrate how best professional footballers should deal with venal abuse such as that which Luis Suárez inflicted on Patrice Evra, and John Terry on Anton Ferdinand. Blatter grasped my hand and said that on-field discrimination should be dealt with by a handshake for peace.
“There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards the other, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that, he should say it’s a game, we are in a game,” said Blatter. “At the end of the game, we shake hands, this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”
He has not worked hard against racism and discrimination, not like Evra and Ferdinand, who endured real abuse. This was simply another reminder of how out of touch Blatter was.
It is hard to discover any community that Blatter has yet to offend. In backing Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022, he voiced his acceptance of such hosts’ intolerance towards homosexuality. “They should refrain from any sexual activities,” he said of gay fans wanting to attend Qatar.
The man’s a menace, a disgrace, a charlatan, yet he is also the symptom as well as the cause of Fifa’s culture of deceit and disdain. No fewer than 133 of the 207 Fifa nations backed Blatter in the presidential election last Friday, taking him to a fifth term of office when his one challenger, Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, withdrew.
In the end, the Blatterdammerung played out in a small auditorium in Zurich on Tuesday was composed and orchestrated by the FBI. US gumshoes have tracked down the Fifa felons, placing pressure on those fearful of tax-evasion charges to spill the beans. Blatter has yet to be charged but, God and the Feds willing, it will happen.
He is toast but the future menu for change remains to be established. And it is the FBI that will shape the future for Blatter, Fifa, Qatar 2022 and world football.