Sepp Blatter: The Autumn of Football’s Patriarch

The old man, he’s 74 in a few weeks, sits upright in his uncomfortable leather chair and gazes towards his interviewer a yard and a half from his eyes. He’s been waiting many months for her and, appreciating her good fortune, she is reverential, notebook on her knee and pen in hand but only the audio recorder balanced on the arm of her matching chair can capture the nuances of his long-rehearsed delivery.

All must be in its place for the set-piece, decorating his life’s narrative. Behind his head, a replica golden World Cup Trophy. On the coffee table is a branded banner, maybe 18 inches high, with his final attempt to be taken more seriously than he knows he deserves, the contrived slogan ‘For the Game, For the World.’

Blatter interview - for the game?

He is dressed as the mortician would like to receive him, pale blue shirt, slightly darker tie, dark suit, skull polished, remaining hairs smoothed back to his neck. Outside the polished aluminium window frame it is still late winter on the bleak hill above Zurich.

The way the reporter writes her story, she’s from Al-Ahram in Cairo, he leaves his farewell to the end. Hell! Skip the endless column inches – we’ll be back later – he’s announcing his likely decline and death and that’s the news we’ve waited too long for! Here we go, down the page.

The Curved Executioner’s Sword

Over-shadowing the endgame of Patriarch is the flapping jalabiyya of the man who once bankrolled him but now, between mouthfuls of honey, dates and coffee, practices swinging the curved executioner’s sword.

‘With Mohamed, we had a wonderful time together as friends up to the last congress in May,’ says Patriarch. ‘All of a sudden our friendship was broken. Ask him, why? I don’t know.’

Oh yes he does. Patriarch went behind the back of the man from the Gulf, and 14 months from now there must be retribution in football’s Chop Square. Such an inept manoeuvre shows the Big P is losing his touch. To mock a man backed by an Emir’s billions is unwise.

The alliances that will form the death squad are still being negotiated. There’s a second shadow, a kimchi billionaire of heavy industry and politics from the Far East and nearer home, dangerously near, across a few Alpine ranges to the south and closeted with his advisors in his modern palace overlooking Lac Geneva, the third shadow of a charismatic, curly-haired, beautiful former athlete.

Unlike Patriarch, this man’s tie, shirt collar and jacket always look dishevelled, as if he’s come straight from a kickabout in the car park. In his homeland, France, he cannot walk the streets without being mobbed. Patriarch never knew such popularity, such love.

In his prime Patriarch was blessed with a superficially warm smile for the public but it masked the mean-spirited, spiteful backstabber at his private desk with subordinates to carry out the sackings and the deferential secretaries.

He shagged a few of them over the years but was too old for the come-later lissom blonde who has gone off with an architect. Some female employees felt his small hands in the elevator, others discovered his flamboyant late night welcome to the presidential suite with the silk dressing gown flung open in slow motion.

When his long-time Polish girlfriend Ilona walked out in late 2008 he knew his game would henceforth be going down, not up. Increasingly disorientated, he has fumbled his way through recent public appearances.

He giggled away concerns of John Terry’s philandering as ‘Anglo Saxon’ exceptionalism. ‘If this had happened in, let’s say, Latin countries, then I think he would have been applauded.’ There was a kind of group holding of breath. Then embarrassment rippled across the world.

A man who has worked with him for much of two decades and watched him when he didn’t, says Patriarch is now a confused specimen. ‘In his own mind he casts himself as a victim, now doubting he can anymore walk on water.’

When Patriarchs summon God to support their cause, you can hear the mortician cough and reach for his measuring stick. ‘If I’m still wanted by the congress and God will give me health I will go, but if the congress says no, then I will say ‘thank you,’ meaning he’s undecided when exactly to reach for his coat and turn in the car keys.

Uh huh. Why did she wait so long to give us this second, fin de siècle announcement. It is because she defers to the Great Dictator but we are the lucky ones because she lets him dictate his obituary as he would wish it were constructed for his favourite newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Back to Patriarch’s custom-built mirror. He dazzles himself with talk of his 35 year ‘mission’ to make the world a better place but still his meanness writhes in a dark corner as he tells her that ‘unlike former presidents’ (that’s one in the shrivelled nuts for the previous Patriarch, now aged 93 and, in Rio, beyond the reach of the Swiss cops) he has been ‘committed to a wide range of humanitarian projects.’

Fighting child labour: Tick that box. UNICEF, tick again. Fair Play, Respect, Discipline, Social Advancement, Mutual Understanding, Eradicate Polio, Improve Public Health.

Switch Ticking machine to rapid fire, fax results to NZZ Obituaries Department.

Keep reading, here’s Patriarch’s ‘Love Affair With Africa.’ Indeed he so much loveth Africa that, lacking a son, he hath bequeathed it to Nephew. Patriarch talks frequently of the Family of Football – but when there’s money to be extracted, it’s a very small family. Nephew has been given an enormous chunk of the television rights to the Big Games in South Africa this year and if that isn’t enough, he’s been gifted a large bite size of the ticketing for the corporations.

Management Mumbo-Jumboists

But Nephew – a graduate of management mumbo-jumboists McKinseys – has majored in Greed and Failed in business acumen. (There’s a story within a story here. Back in the late 1990s Patriarch hired a mob of McKinsey Greenhorns, led by Nephew, to evaluate his business model. They gibbered managementspeak for a couple of years, pocketed millions of whatever currency you prefer and then split forces. Nephew went off to become CEO of the company that has since got the football business. He took another Greenhorn with him and the third stayed behind to become Patriarch’s financial controller. Its called keeping it in the families – McKinsey and Patriarch).

phillipe-blatter

Patriarch and Nephew and their capos, cocooned in their duvets of wealth and self-confidence, didn’t notice taxpayers bailing out banks, dole queues growing and corporate budgets shrinking and even disappearing. They jacked up their prices. The capos jacked up the ticket prices for ordinary fans. Crazed South African hoteliers, airlines and profit-takers were encouraged to jack up their fantasy prices, swelling the percentage commissions.

And they waited for the money to roll in, as it always did. And they waited. And waited. And now they are panicking, stuck with inventory and abused by fans.

Falling back on the scoundrel’s defence Patriarch deplores the ‘envy and jealousy that the World Cup has gone to South Africa’ – whatever that means. And his capos blame the media. We’re used to it. But there’s a real victim. Retired to his ancestral home in the Eastern Cape and his own and most honourable Autumn is the Man from Robben Island. He has been disrespected by the European gougers busy looting his country and that may never be forgiven.

Patriarch, having had his photo-ops with the World’s Most Loved – who now looks too frail to protest at the deception – wasn’t fretting.

Then the NZZ spoke. Their editorialists know of Patriarch’s tax fiddles, the grotesque 8 million francs hush money to the last general secretary, the P’s disloyalty to his former boss and just about everybody who ever worked for him. They weren’t happy about the $90 million it cost to extract the family from the massive marketing mess the Grand Vizier got them into – and they know about the blackmailing letters between him and Patriarch, and everybody knows what the uppity woman judge in Manhattan had to say. But it was the fining and suspension of the shot-up Togo team that pushed them to reset their keyboards to ‘roast.’

Right Between the Sticks

On February 3 they gave it him between the sticks. It wasn’t just Patriarch’s refusal to condemn his ally in Africa who had shafted Togo. They fingered Nephew as well and ‘the stagnant sales of World Cup tickets’ and fumed that Patriarch refuses to discuss anything that matters in the real world beyond his barbed wire and uniformed guards.

The NZZ is very serious. Giacobbo and Müller are not. Most Sunday nights on Switzerland’s most popular television channel they lampoon Patriarch. So too does satirical site klatschheftli.ch that noticed the famous Swiss is actually a rather small person who needs to be on tippy-toes for photo-ops with normal humans.

Blatter's car crash

The Swiss were less amused 15 months ago when Patriarch roared out of an Alpine tunnel in his 6.2 litre Mercedes sports car, smashed into a slower-moving car he was trying to overtake, lost control and cannoned into an oncoming VW Golf.

The Golf rolled three times. Fortunately, the driver suffered only minor injuries. The police hurriedly removed Patriarch’s number plates to ‘protect his privacy.’ Then this multi-millionaire got off with a paltry 600 francs fine.

Discontent rumbles at all levels of Patriarch’s diminishing empire. Irascible and erratic in these, his last days, he fired his press mouthpiece and then his most loyal consigliore. Spotting the open door his ‘Head of Security” a Christian Democrat MP and former member of the Papal Swiss guard has marched away.

It’s been a dozen years of scandal since Patriarch was ennobled on the eve of the French World Cup. He was helped to power promising every national franchise big bundles of dollars every year. He knew the money wasn’t in the bank and future earnings were hurriedly pawned at a knockdown price. Swiss KPMG wrote him the audit report he wanted. Simultaneously, Enron, advised by McKinsey, were going bust. Dots screamed to be joined up – but weren’t. He survived.

Patriarchs don’t get to be Patriarchs without immense reserves of inner strength, wiliness – and luck. From late 2000 he knew, privately, that the marketing company that bribed a generation of sports officials was heading for that high brick wall, the optional blindfold and the last cigarette. Inevitably, the cops would be in. He might be the shortest-lived Patriarch in history.

He lied, he diverted, he fantasised and the smartly dressed Notebooks wrote down his ramblings unquestioningly and the world was reassured. The executives who created the offshore accounts to warehouse the bribes were summoned to court in the canton of Zug and we discovered Patriarch had secretly lobbied the cops to halt investigations. He failed but with the exception of one courageous German-language Swiss TV channel, the Notebooks obliged and didn’t print.

Lying To The Cops

Three Swiss judges fined Patriarch for lying to the cops but the Notebooks found it incomprehensible and strangled the story at birth. The judges named an old rogue who runs the Paraguay franchise for trousering bribes, even produced the documentary evidence, it was posted on the web but Patriarch told the Notebooks he didn’t want to talk about it and they broke into applause.

Patriarch’s Nephew watched from his high office window 100 yards from the courthouse. His sports business had made its home in the same offices as the outfit that had paid the bribes and soon documents were liberated showing its game is change the name and do the same. The art of laundering kickbacks thrives.

Patriarch’s heart fluttered when they arrived just after 10 on the morning of November 3, 2005. He’d heard on the grapevine that pushy investigating magistrate Thomas Hildbrand in Zug had opened a new investigation . . . into him! Patriarch! Patriarchs think themselves untouchable, especially by coppers from faraway cantons. And the Zurich politicians would surely never dare consent to a cross-border raid.

It took two weeks before an astute reporter at Zurich’s Sonntags Zeitung got the tip-off. When he called the Palace, a guard portrayed it as a happy meeting of minds, a leisurely kaffee und kuchen, and that some of the documents, only borrowed, might have been returned. But the guard let slip enough for the reporter to figure out that under the Swiss penal code, the cops believed Patriarch had been dipping into the treasury. Some of the kickbacks to Patriarch’s closest lieutenants had been repaid, surreptitiously, and the coppers had got documents showing Patriarch had signed off on it.

Heavy Legal Bills

Patriarchs get a better press than presidents and prime ministers. A fraud squad raid on Downing Street, Elysée or White House would clog media arteries for months. The Notebooks, alternatively cowed or unable to comprehend what had happened, preferred to look away.

kpmg

The ignominy of the raid and the continuing attentions of the coppers is airbrushed out of today’s carefully constructed obituary. Our Egyptian reporter in Zurich isn’t pressing the point that Patriarch hangs on to his position because the sport pays the heavy legal bills for protecting his reputation. She may not know but that’s good because today we only want to hear his obituary, in his own words. Then we can know it’s nearly time to make the plates for the big printing presses.

Is the blade really being sharpened? Is there soon to be a vacancy at the People’s Palace? Patriarch fears so. His 35 years ducking and lots of diving include setting up his own global intelligence networks. He knows who is restless, who is whispering rebellion.

He also knows that nobody loves Patriarch. Not the fans, that’s for sure. They boo him at big games, forcing him to hide under the bleachers rather than hand over his trophy after the Final of the Germany tournament in 2006. The sponsors weren’t happy about that blemish on their spectacle. The fans buy their products and he was docked 10 points for the booing.

The Brands averted their eyes from the blatant corruption as long as the Notebooks did. But they became restless during the Manhattan process when they heard the evidence. Patriarch and his Grand Vizier brazenly lie to the Brand managers who pay for the fucking show. You can walk on water but not on Coca-Cola. The coming South African debacle – with the likelihood of empty seats for God’s sake! – will ease relegation to bootboy in the Visp Pensioners League.

Back in the mid-1990s when today’s Patriarch was yesterday’s Grand Vizier a sports marketing company with clients among the biggest brands met secretly in the Frankfurt airport Sheraton with the Industry Billionaire from the Far East. They were concerned about the millions in kickbacks that were about to flow from a deal they were excluded from. They were clean and offered more. They lost. Brand managers have long memories. You only get to screw them once. The Billionaire was out-manipulated that time. Not again.

Dirty Tricks ‘Consultant’ Fired

The Man from the Gulf has told his dirty tricks ‘consultant’ Peter Hargitay, previously fired by Blatter and the England FA, that he’s persona non grata in Qatar or Kuala Lumpa. Asia, with the whole-hearted involvement of the Eastern Billionaire, comes to the hustings with 46 votes.

They know it’s not yet Asia’s time and the only certain candidate to glue the game together is Europe’s charismatic leader – and he’s got another 53 votes. Only six short of the tipping point of 105.

The Man from the Gulf is long famous in Africa for his generosity and most if not all of their 54 votes will make it a landslide. How big the ticketing mess created by Patriarch’s friends and family turns out to be could have African delegates turning their backs on him at Oliver Tambo when his Gulfstream lands. Before the Opening Ceremony.

After that, it doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks. Dig out the obit. Sound the klaxon on the presses. Who is backing a loser?

Flashpoint could be the Congress on the eve of the July 11 kickoff. Will the Europeans allow Patriarch to continue influencing the contest to host the Big Event in 2012 and 2018. He’s so tricky it might be best to tell him to take his money and manufacture his medical exit. And they might scrap the ludicrous plan to chose the 2022 host nation a dozen years ahead of time. The dazzle of doubling the bribes before the Mortician called them in was too much for some of the very old consiglieres.

Let the Clean-up Begin

The North American and Caribbean franchise, tightly controlled by the bubble-bearded Fatman, with his homes in Trump Tower, Paradise Beach in Nassau and the farm in Lenior, North Carolina, and his gold-encrusted partner in crime from Trinidad have been given freedom by Patriarch to misbehave as they wished. With Europe, Asia and Africa united, life bans on them and suspension of 35 subservient nations pending forensic audits could only be for the good of the game – there and everywhere.

Likewise, the Latin Americans can be warned that they’d better rid themselves of the Bribe taker listed in the Zug court, the Anti-Semite from the land of Maradona and the Dodgy Brazilian who makes the enter-at-your-peril favelas look safe yet has been given his own World Cup to plunder in 2014. A swift blood-letting, soon forgotten as the game begins to get respect again.

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Andrew Jennings for giving us permission to post this piece on Pitch Invasion. For more of Andrew’s investigative work in world sport, visit Transparency in Sport.

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