No acclamation just chutzpah from unconvincing Blatter


  • Football
  • Saturday, 30 May 2015

(Reuters) - Sepp Blatter's face told its own story.

Behind the forced jocularity, the grin seemed unconvincing and somehow he looked all of his 79 years after being re-elected as FIFA president in Zurich on Friday following the most damaging challenge yet to his hegemony.

A wan smile told of yet another election win but the worry lines only revealed the most uncertain of futures for the old man who directs world football.

He clasped his hands together and boomed: "Let's go FIFA.... let's go FIFA!" Yet even this chutzpah could not hide the sense that he now understood this may yet prove to be the most empty of victories.

For the first time, there was nothing like the feel of triumph by acclamation that he and the great dictators of world sport down the years, from Juan Antonio Samaranch, the old former Olympic chief, to Primo Nebiolo, the one-time godfather of athletics, would always feel comforted and buoyed by.

Blatter wanted one more voyage with the good ship FIFA towards his retirement, he said, using his favourite nautical allusions.

Yet, instead, this extraordinary afternoon had the revolutionary whiff of being the beginning of the end for world football's long-time captain. There could still be a mutiny before he hands over the helm.

To be taken to a second round of voting by his 39-year-old challenger Prince Ali bin Al Hussein represented more than a bloody nose for the Swiss.

Even if the challenger stepped out of the ring before a second round of voting, he had already done irreparable damage to Blatter's authority.

Ths FIFA president secured 133 votes to Prince Ali's 73 with the contest ending when the Jordanian withdrew from the contest.

DAWN RAIDS

It was an outcome quite unthinkable on Monday night before the dawn raids by Swiss police to arrest FIFA officials at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.

The ringmaster, who allowed decay and scandal to revolve poisonously around him, failed to sell himself convincingly enough as the man to sort out FIFA's crisis.

In the vast, soulless Hallenstadion auditorium, Blatter made a stirring final address before the vote, to the point where it almost sounded like one final desperate plea for a last waltz with old dance partners.

He had never had to push himself so vigorously, nor with such a dose of humility.

And still that was not enough for a knockout triumph.

Painting himself as the strong, experienced leader to guide FIFA out of a crisis -- and not one of his making, naturally -- he pleaded with his long-time supporters: "I'm with you. Quite simply, I'm with you -- and I'd just like to stay with you, to continue with you. I'd like to do that.

"You know me already. I don't need to introduce myself to you," Blatter added, knowing that to most of them he was always either deity or devil. Seventy-three of them, it transpired, had had enough.

Prince Ali did not have this luxury. Quite unrecognisable to any football fan from Barcelona to Belo Horizonte, he seemed just a little overwhelmed at being charged with slaying a giant.

The Prince's cry felt like that of a hopeful amateur against the bluster of a consummate professional, as he made the simple and eloquent plea: "I ask you to listen to your conscience."

Good try but their conscience told them Blatter's time was not quite yet up after the most turbulent of weeks.

On Friday, as the members had strolled into the arena, where everyone from Led Zeppelin to the Rolling Stones have starred, it was easy to buy into the idea this could prove to be Blatter's farewell concert.

BAD NEWS

The backdrop to the vote was a tickertape of bad news for Blatter, delivered by everyone from footballing greats on social media and disgruntled sponsors to the British Prime Minister still smarting over how England never did land the 2018 World Cup.

"If Blatter had even a crumb of dignity remaining, he'd walk away now, creep back to his lair, sit in his armchair and stroke his cat," boomed former England striker Gary Lineker on Twitter conjuring up a delicious image of the Bond villain Blofeld.

The overwhelming feeling seemed to be that even if Blatter won he could only lose in the long-run.

As Dutch FA chairman Michael Van Praag put it: "I already told him many times, whatever he does from now on, even if he takes good decisions, nobody in the world will buy that any more."

But Blatter's victory speech suggested he is going nowhere quite yet. This was the Teflon master at work, a man with more political nous in his little finger than most Prime Ministers, not to mention a hide to make a rhinoceros green with envy.

Yet here was something different. After the dramas of the week, from the dawn arrests to emotional cries from his old ally Michel Platini, the head of European football, for him to step down, his march to victory no longer felt inevitable and bloodless.

When one early drama saw a young woman protester interrupt his introductory speech waving a Palestine flag, prompting Blatter up on the podium to call for security and order the entrances to be manned, he did not have his usual level of control.

Certainly, his vote harvesting had been more efficient.

Still, listening to his supporters gave an inkling of just how brilliant he has been down the years at sprinkling largesse on the smaller football associations, understanding that the vote of the Anguilla FA, ranked 209, is worth just as much as that of world champions Germany.

"He has some pretty good policies for countries like ours. I believe that things can move ahead," Randolph Harris, President of the Barbados FA, said. "I am disappointed at the number of things that have developed but basically I am quite happy with the situation at the moment."

In other words, crisis what crisis?

"Some might say I have been with you for too long, but what is this notion of time?" Blatter declared before the vote with expansive insouciance. Maybe he will now find out. The great survivor's time could yet still be up sooner than he thinks.

(Writing by Ian Chadband; Editing by Ken Ferris)


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