ZURICH: Sepp Blatter has said he has no preferred candidate to take his place when FIFA Congress votes in a new president next Friday writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Blatter, banned from all football for eight months for financial misconduct in office, was discussing his career and recent events in a radio interview.

Five contenders are vyng for the presidency: Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, South African Tokyo Sexwale, Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Gianni Infantino, the Swiss general secretary of European federation UEFA.

Blatter indicated that four of them – with the exception of Prince Ali who took 73 votes against Blatter in last year’ election – have paid a courtesy call.

But he has no preference. Blatter said: “I cannot take sides, it’s not possible. It’s not for me to intervene. I have told them [candidates and some federations] to vote as you wish, do what you feel is best for FIFA in your soul.”

Turning to the controversy which led to his expulsion from football, Blatter insisted that both he and Michel Platini were entirely innocent of all charges.

Both men are appealing against eight-year suspensions over a ‘disloyal payment’ of SFr2m which Blatter authorised to the French president of UEFA in 2011. Both men claimed the payment was in recognition of a verbal contract for work Platini had undertaken for FIFA between 1999 and 2002.

Blatter said: “This is the truth, about these two million. Did he have the right to claim these millions? Did I have the duty to pay them? Yes, because it was a debt! If you pay a debt, there is no reason to make a global deal out of it.

“Michel Platini is innocent, as I am innocent. There’s nothing there. I said to the board: it is not a matter of ethics but a matter of accountability.”

Valcke ban

Blatter also defended his former secretary general, Jerome Valcke, who was banned for 12 years by FIFA’s ethics committee last week.

Ignoring the fact that he had originally suspended Valcke from the job last September, Blatter said: “You can attack me, and I can defend myself, but you can’t attack the secretary general Valcke.”

Valcke was found guilty of seven charges of misconduct, which included using private jets for sightseeing trips. Blatter said he had known about the flights but insisted: “This is a question of financial controls, not ethics.

“He managed FIFA well. Now we have an organisation with reserves of $1.3bn.”

Blatter repeated many of his previous claims about why FIFA collapsed into a corruption crisis under pressure from the United States and Swiss judicial authorities.

He said that the US authorities had wanted to “take control of FIFA,” after the country was beaten by Qatar in the battle to land host rights for the 2022 World Cup.

Finally, Blatter was regretful about the manner of his departure from the presidency after 41 years working for FIFA.

He said: “In 40 years at FIFA we’ve developed football until it has never been as good as it is today. Just take a look at the Champions League to see the quality.

“The departure that’s prepared for me is very sad. But, what can you do? Sometimes there are situations for which you are not armed and, all of a sudden, you have no more friends.”