KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- An intriguing insight has emerged into the FIFA reign of Jerome Valcke until its secretary-general was suspended, sacked and finally banned from football for 12 years last week.

The account reviews Valcke’s controversial career in sports marketing and the manner in which he wielded his power within the now-embattled world football federation.

Valcke is also described as a ‘childhood friend’ of a man who would later become a suspect in the Bahrain-Togo friendly match scandal. The game, in 2010, was arranged by the match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal when the BFA’s president was Sheikh Salmam bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, now a candidate for the FIFA presidency.

Jerome Valcke: End of the FIFA road, again

[There is no suggestion that Sheikh Salman, who hopes to be elected as successor to Sepp Blatter in Zurich on February 26, was involved in arranging the match or had any knowledge of the circumstances].

Lawyers for Valcke insist that he is innocent of all charges laid by FIFA’s ethics chamber and that “when all the facts come out, it will be clear that he did absolutely nothing wrong in carrying out his duties for the good of FIFA and the sport.”

Rising star

His days as FIFA No2 are reviewed in a new book about the FIFA scandal entitled Blatter: Un Monde a Vendre, by the AFP journalist Eric Bernaudeau*.

One section tells how Valcke rose from TV sports journalist to high-flying rights specialist; how, at the suggestion of Michel Platini, he was appointed head of FIFA Marketing after the ISL crash. Subsquently Valcke claimed to have doubled FIFA’s sponsorship income between the next three World Cups.

Everything ground to a sudden halt in December 2006 when Valcke and three associates were sacked over FIFA’s dumping of sponsor MasterCard in favour of Visa. FIFA had to pay MasterCard $105m in settlement.

Bernaudeau suggests that, though Valcke took the blame, Blatter must have known all about it. No surprise then, after Valcke’s return to FIFA as secretary-general in the summer of 2007, to discover that – far from being being sacked – he had been only on ‘gardening leave’ (During which, at the behest of his friend Ricardo Teixeira, he was paid $100,000 to prepare Brazil’s 2014 World Cup bid book).

Rumours soon circulated that, because Valcke had been involved in a review of FIFA’s books after the ISL crash for an outside consortium, he held some undefined power over Blatter; he has always denied that, as vehemently as he has denied everything else.

Supreme power

Valcke soon established near-supreme power. He negotiated, personally, top-level sponsor deals and dictated to South Africa and Brazil over their World Cup stagings. This included, breathtakingly, forcing host cities to drop stadium alcohol bans to accommodate FIFA sponsor Budweiser.

At this stage also, says Bernaudeau, Valcke began to consider standing for the presidency should Blatter indicate an intention to step down. Valcke’s access to World Cup tickets helped make friends in national federations. His frequent use of charter flights ultimately rebounded on Thierry Regenass, FIFA’s director of member associations and development, who was later sent on sick leave.

Also interesting, in light of current events, was Valcke’s Togo connection. In 2014, according to Bernaudeau, Valcke took another private jet to Togo to appoint an old friend, Antoine Folly, at the head of a normalisation committee to run the chaotic local federation.

That meant a remarkable change of fortunes for Folly; he had been jailed briefly back in 2010 over allegations that he was directly involved in helping set up the scandal match against Bahrain.

Cup tickets claim

Valcke was eventually ‘relieved of his duties’ at FIFA last September after allegations that he sought to cut a personal deal with a marketing company over World Cup tickets. As ethics prosecutor Cornel Borbely studied Valcke’s activities the more evidence he believed he found of a man who had overstepped the mark.

Hence, though Borbely requested a nine-year suspension, ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert ordered 12 years instead (Valcke retains the right to appeal both verdict and sentence).

Valcke had been looking towards the exit for some time; he had said as much on the sidelines of the World Cup draw last summer. Only, at his own hour of choosing, not FIFA’s.

Insiders have intimated that Valcke, ever since the Zurich police swoop last May, has been showered and dressed every day by 6am, the earliest hour at which Swiss police may come knocking on the door.

As he told Bernaudeau: “When the law takes a hand you know that things are no longer under your own control. You don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. On June 2 [the day Blatter announced his impending exit] everyone was in panic mode. No-one knew what might happen next.

“That isn’t what I wanted to see. I’ve never expect to be arrested. I wasn’t destined to be arrested, it wasn’t my raison d’etre.”

** Blatter, Un Monde a Vendre by Eric Bernaudeau (Published by Jose Carlin/Jacques-Marie Laffont), €19.90.

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