Sepp Blatter: football's Godfather?

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has dismissed numerous scandals over the years to survive in football's top job. So, is he really just the media's 'bumbling buffoon'? Or is the truth in fact more sinister?

Over the past fortnight, two Continental potentates "virtual dictators of their respective empires" have fallen from grace. By remarkable coincidence, says The Scotsman, both are wealthy 75-year olds known for their "interesting" love lives, regular embroilment in financial scandals and highly publicised gaffes. Still more curious, both began their careers as crooners: one on cruise ships, the other at Alpine weddings. There is, however, one key difference between Silvio Berlusconi and Joseph "Sepp" Blatter: the Fifa president is still in his job.

Blatter has apologised profusely for his remark that on-field racism can be resolved with a handshake. But "it will take all [his] political nous to walk away from this political imbroglio". As Gordon Taylor, head of the UK Professional Footballers' Association observed, Blatter's latest gaffe is "the straw that broke the camel's back". Some claim that English football has a particular axe to grind when it comes to Blatter (see below). But that is to overlook the constant stream of accusations of backroom dealings and corruption that have dogged his tenure at Fifa since he got the top job in 1998.

It is a measure of "septic Sepp's" teflon qualities that he is still viewed by many as a "bumbling buffoon" rather than the all-powerful Godfather of football, says The Times. Yet his "giggling call" for gays to refrain from "sexual activities" when they attend the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 caused outrage. Ditto his advice that women players should wear "tighter shorts and low cut shirts...". That, of course, was no surprise to long-term followers of the thrice-married, thrice-divorced Blatter, says In the early 1970s, he joined the World Society of Friends of Suspenders an organisation against "the replacement of suspender belts with panty-hose".

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No-one can accuse Blatter of lacking soccer passion, says the Daily Mail. Growing up in the alpine town of Visp, he hoped to turn professional, but was thwarted by his father, who told him that "you'll never make a living from football" (he now makes a reported £1.7m a year, plus a six-figure "loyalty bonus"). So Blatter took a degree in business and economics. After a stint as a sports reporter, he moved into PR, eventually joining Swiss watchmaker Longines. His big break came in 1975 when he joined Fifa.

Even Blatter's enemies concede he's been a "driving force" behind efforts to break "the stranglehold of Europe and South America on the game", says When Blatter joined Fifa there was just one African country Zaire in the World Cup. Last year there were six. So he should be judged by his actions rather than his words, says Patrick Barclay in The Times. "There are many reasons to wish that Sepp Blatter were not president of Fifa, but the cause of anti-racism is not one." In Britain, that remains a minority view.

He is the Pel of bureaucratic politics'

Sepp Blatter has turned Fifa into a hugely profitable corporation whose revenues have doubled to well over $1bn in the past five years. He continues to enjoy solid support from much of the Fifa football "family", says The Guardian. Indeed, many suggest the most recent scandals which this summer led to ten of Fifa's 24-man executive committee being suspended or investigated for alleged corruption are "an invention of the English media". The British have got it in for Blatter, goes the thinking, because they lost the 2018 World Cup to Russia.

Pull the other one, says David Jones in the Daily Mail. If Blatter wasn't wise to the murky goings-on on his watch, "he damn well ought to have been". It looked like he might have met his nemesis in 2002 when a dossier was produced containing detailed accusations of bribery and mismanagement at Fifa's marketing company, ISL, which had collapsed leaving a $100m black hole. But a Swiss court threw it out.

Blatter's career looked in jeopardy again this summer, when a well-financed rival from Qatar emerged to challenge him. Days before the vote, however, Mohamed Bin Hammam's campaign conveniently blew up amid allegations of corruption, leaving Blatter to stand unopposed. So how has he survived?

It's Blatter's good fortune "to operate in a country where privacy is a virtual religion", says Jones. What's more, his enemies within football are afraid that he might expose them: Blatter is rumoured to keep a "poison box", containing "all their dirty secrets". News that the ISL investigation is being reopened certainly doesn't appear to have rattled him, says The Sunday Times.

Indeed, for all the talk of a fat file on Fifa sitting in the prosecutor's office in Zug, I wouldn't bet against Blatter's chances of surviving until his formal retirement in 2014, concludes Gideon Rachman in the FT. "He is the Pel of bureaucratic politics."