Time to put Old Sepp down?

They say that every dog has its day and frankly, Sepp Blatter has had his and is long overdue a final trip to the boneyard. Football’s maddest dog and one of the few men capable of making George Dubya look the epitome of sanity and reason has been spouting off again. This week, the FIFA president aimed a thinly-veiled scattergun attack at greedy footballers, new money and, well, Chelsea. He littered his diatribe with sinister prose and dubious metaphors — slavery, nuclear warheads and ‘pornographic’ money all rearing their ugly heads. Just how can money be pornographic, by the way? A large pile of £50 notes with a bushy moustache and an impressive roll of £1 coins stuffed down its dungarees, arriving at a scantily clad Swedish au-pair’s residence to “fix her plumbing” accompanied by a jazz-funk soundtrack? Suggestions (within reason and the boundaries of common decency) to this site please.

But I digress. A former publicist for a regional Swiss tourist board and General Secretary of the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation, Blatter arrived at FIFA in 1975, rising through the ranks to his current position in 1998. Inept power-crazed madmen with agendas need a place to hide when everyone else has found them out; sadly football’s governing body gave Blatter refuge and a platform for him to publicise his cuckoo schemes under the premise that they were for the good of football with monotonous regularity. In case you’ve forgotten what a legend in his own mind he is, here are just a few of Mr. Blatter’s revolutionary ideas for the advancement of the beautiful game:

  • The abolition of drawn games
  • The World Cup to take place every two years
  • The European Championships to be used as World Cup qualifiers
  • Female football players to wear “sexier” outfits
  • Games to be played over four quarters instead of two halves
  • Larger goals
  • The World Club Championship

This is before we mention the countless allegations of bribery, corruption and financial mismanagement that have dogged him during his time in charge of FIFA, but suffice it to say that his reputation is somewhat blemished. He has long been irritated by the power and influence held by the European game — his dislike of the Champions League and futile attempts to build up the World Club Championship as an alternative being a prime example. A global competition that pitches Sydney FC against Deportivo Saprissa does not quite have the glamour and prestige of one that can offer Real Madrid against AC Milan; the tournament has won little favour with European clubs who have their own competition (the Champions League) and are not keen on turning their concentration away from that or their domestic league and cup competitions. Manchester United’s withdrawal from the 1999/2000 FA Cup to take part in the tournament caused much consternation throughout the world of football and beyond and the prospect of a couple of meaningless games in Japan this December is something that Liverpool are surely not keen on given their inauspicious start to the domestic campaign. European football may not be perfect but it does not need Blatter’s meddling and engineering which ultimately suit his own ends, but as its powerbase in the game has grown stronger the more the FIFA president’s influence has decreased and the more outlandish and attention-seeking his outbursts have become.

Now, his sights are set firmly on the Premiership and he has decided that a “task force” should investigate the current situation. Aside of the complaint that an English club (Portsmouth I believe) has a squad of players consisting of no less than nineteen different nationalities (and we all thought that Sepp wanted a global game — obviously not) and that there can be no excitement in a league where the winner can be confidently predicted after five games (he obviously didn’t see the Arsenal “Invincibles” implode so spectacularly last season or Keegan’s Newcastle in their prime), he clearly has a major problem with Chelsea.

His latest rant included the suggestion that the source of the new wealth comes from “individuals with little or no history of interest in the game”. No prizes for guessing who that is aimed at. Roman may not have had a nutter in a butcher’s coat and blood red DM’s piss in his pocket whilst dodging flying coins at Upton Park, but his attendance at virtually every Chelsea game since he arrived at the Bridge and visible displays of the pleasure and pain that the game invokes in us all make it obvious to anyone but the blind or terminally stupid; he is a fan — a new one maybe, but this doesn’t make him any less valid.

A broken record it may be but we’ll play it again for the hard of hearing and intelligence; the likes of Blatter barely raised an eyebrow at the financial power wielded by the game’s ‘historic’ giants in recent years, many of whom despite having well-stocked trophy cabinets owe their positions at football’s top table to a great deal more than just success on the pitch; Manchester United (anyone hear the “Not for Sale” chants when the City first came calling to help make them richer and more powerful than almost any other club in the game? No, me neither) and A.C. Milan (Mr. Berlusconi’s billions may just have had some bearing on the seven Serie A titles and four European Cup / Champions League wins during his time as proprietor of the Rossoneri) both fall firmly into this category as do Real Madrid, Juventus and many others. To complain about a billionaire owning a football club now is either shutting the gate after the horse has bolted or just plain bloody churlish, dependent on your viewpoint.

But that isn’t all. Sepp also thinks that the game should be more about “grass roots than idols”, although quite what playing the World Cup every two years or the World Club Championship have to do with a cold wet Sunday morning on Hackney Marshes is anybody’s guess; anyone that has ever kicked a football has done so with dreams of emulating their idols so the two are inexorably linked whether it fits with his warped thinking or not. Players may well be paid too much nowadays but they are also what has made football into the world’s favourite sport and a multi-billion pound industry from which FIFA has benefited enormously, something which he should do well to remember when criticizing them; at the same time FIFA’s inability to control the rise and unruly dominance of agents during the last decade could arguably be seen as a contributory factor to the current situation.

It may have been eloquently put, but the sum of Blatter’s comments add up to what is simply a retread of the “He’s got no soul, no interest in football and they haven’t got any history so they can’t win anything!” rubbish which makes him sound more like the bitterest Arsenal fan rather than the president of world football’s organizing body.

Were he a Premier league club chairman (God forbid — I wouldn’t even wish that on Tottenham fans. Well, maybe…) Blatter would be laughed out of every board meeting before the tea and biscuits arrived for being the biggest idiot in the room; no mean feat considering the company he would be in. In less tolerant circles, he would surely have been forcibly removed from his position and sectioned under the Mental Health Act by now. One German journalist summed FIFA’s head honcho up perfectly, commenting that “He [Blatter] has fifty ideas before breakfast and fifty-one of them are bad”.

Football today may have some problems, many being of its own making which it therefore has a duty to solve but the more Blatter prevaricates the more he convinces the world that he is the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. A figurehead who looks for cheap and easy headlines based on preconception and prejudice is clearly bankrupt of both useful ideas and integrity and is therefore of no use to anyone; the findings of his “task force” will undoubtedly mirror these qualities too. Here’s a thought — maybe it is finally time for someone in the game to stand up to this petty little bureaucrat and challenge his outmoded views for the genuine good of the game?

“It is better to remain silent and be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Sepp, take note and go back to the tourist industry — football neither needs nor wants you.

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