KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- Sepp Blatter has come under fire from Michel Platini and Diego Maradona at the start of a week which will end with him securing a further four years at the head of FIFA.
The 79-year-old Swiss will be concerned less about their empty words than about his coronation being overshadowed by the prospect of a spat between Palestine and Israel on the floor of the world football federation’s congress in Zurich on Friday.
Platini, the one man who could have offered Blatter a serious run for FIFA’s money, refused to match his critical words with deeds and left the UEFA challenge to the inadequate pairing of a simple protest candidate in Michael Van Praag and the out-of-his-depth Luis Figo.
The latter pair’s withdrawal has left Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein to carry the fight to congress though, even with most of Europe’s votes, he may still fall short of the 69 votes needed to push Blatter to a second round (though with anything less than 80 Prince Ali would have little option but to withdraw gracefully).
As for Maradona, Blatter will reflect that his attack is nothing new: Argentina’s old glory has been savaging FIFA presidents since the days of Joao Havelange.
Blatter has said he wants to continue because his “mission” remains unfinished but these are empty words of his own since the promotion and development of world football is a task which no-one at FIFA should ever consider complete.
Platini, president of the European federation UEFA and a vice-president of FIFA, renewed his criticism of Blatter in an interview with the French sports newspaper L’Equipe.
He said: “I’ve stated many times that FIFA needs a new leader, new blood and fresh air. I have nothing against Sepp, who I like personally and who I respect. I have also supported in the past ever since helping him in his first election to the presidency in 1998 and in the three elections which followed.
“He has done some very good things and made some good decisions, sometimes in difficult situations. But at some point have to step away and refrain from trying to hold on to the throne at any cost. This is what Sepp had said Lennart Johansson in 2007 when I challenged him [successfully] for the presidency of UEFA.”
However Platini felt let down personally because of Blatter’s change of heart about retiring now.
He said: “I am mostly disappointed for the European federations, whom I had asked to support Sepp in 2011, on the basis of a promise he had made. It was more than a promise actually, it was a true commitment. He had asked us … to support him for what would be his last term. And now he’s back on again as if nothing had happened.
“Maybe I’m too naive, sensitive or idealistic but I have the unpleasant feeling that my commitment was based on a lie and that I indirectly have lied to the federations.”
“He does not need to lie,” said Platini. “We all know he wants to be re-elected not because he has not finished his ‘mission’ or because he still has big plans for FIFA. After 40 years at the head of such a body those words are no longer credible.
“No, he is simply afraid of tomorrow because he has dedicated his life to FIFA, so much so that he identifies himself completely with it. I understand the fear of emptiness. That is only human. But if he really wants the best for FIFA then he should place its needs before his own.
“While he remains in place, whether he likes it or not, whether just or not, FIFA will have a credibility gap and lack authority.”
Platini has thrown his personal weight behind Prince Ali who “might make a great president of FIFA.” Platini added: “He has all the qualities. He has a passion for the game, has been president of a national federation [Jordan] for 15 years, he was a member of the executive committee of the Asian confederation and has been a vice-president of FIFA.
“Hence he knows perfectly the workings of the institutions but has not yet had time to be crushed or moulded by them. Or at least, he resisted because he has a great freedom of mind and an independence which empowers him.”
Maradona’s attack on Blatter, ghost-written in the Telegraph, echoed criticism he made at the recent Soccerex Asian Forum in Jordan which he attended to proclaim his own support for Prince Ali. Not that Maradona has a vote.
He said: “Once football was a sport you could be proud of, a sport that united the world. But FIFA has turned into a playground for the corrupt. Under Sepp Blatter, FIFA has become a disgrace and a painful embarrassment to those of us who care about football deeply.
“The notion of a fifth term is an absurdity in 2015 – it is not acceptable in democratic countries anywhere. Nor is it acceptable in the United Nations or most international organisations today. But somehow it is OK for FIFA. We have a dictator for life.
“I call Blatter ‘the man of ice’ because he lacks the inspiration and passion that are at the very heart of football. If this is the face of international football, we are in a very bad place.”
Maradona’s column ranted on through “stories on the string of scandals that have surrounded Blatter for well over a decade” before concluding: “We need young and creative leadership at FIFA, the kind of leadership that is inclusive and open to new ideas. We need a football culture, not a mafia culture . . . we want our game back.”