Zurich - Facing criminal investigation and
banned from VIP tribunes, Sepp Blatter cuts an increasingly lonely figure far
from the football president who mixed with political heavyweights and tycoons.
When the 79-year-old Swiss powerbroker told
a stunned FIFA congress this year that officials found guilty of misconduct
would be booted out of world football, he would not have been thinking of
But an eight-year ban from all football
activity over a suspect two million Swiss francs ($2 million, 1.8 million
euros) payment to his former ally Michel Platini has left Blatter desperately
battling to preserve his remaining claim to legitimacy as the man who brought
untold riches to football.
Unashamedly divisive - some called him a
"Jesus" and others a rogue - and supremely confident of his own
ability, Blatter was for nearly two decades a global force as controller of the
world's most watched sporting event, the World Cup.
He repeatedly saw off all-comers after
taking over as FIFA president from the scandal-tainted Joao Havelange in 1998.
A useful amateur footballer who turned his
hand to marketing, Blatter wheeled, dealed and shrugged off allegations of
chicanery until Swiss police marched into a Zurich hotel in May and arrested
seven FIFA officials.
It was two days before a congress at which
he was aiming to secure a triumphant fifth term.
"Let me be clear: such misconduct has
no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out
of the game," Blatter said the day after the stunning arrests carried out
under US arrest warrants.
Blatter got his fifth term but with
pressure mounting, announced four days later that he would stand down, with a
new election later set for February 26.
Some still did not believe that he would
give up. But a Swiss investigation into FIFA accounts and the "disloyal
payment" of two million Swiss francs to FIFA vice president Platini
finally ended the Blatter reign. Both were temporarily suspended in October
before they were finally banished on Monday.
Blatter has said many times he believes
there is an international plot to oust him and that jealous rivals do not use
the notion of fair play in their backroom battles with him.
"In my 40 years at FIFA I have learned
to live with hostility and resentment," he said in one commentary this
year. "However, as the German language proverb puts it: sympathy is free,
but envy must be earned."
And rivals had a lot to be jealous of.
Being head of FIFA for 17 years elevated Blatter to 70th place in the Forbes
list of the world's most powerful people.
The former amateur footballer - an old
fashioned striker - joined FIFA in 1975 from a post marketing Swiss watches.
Blatter, who also worked as a public relations
official for a Swiss tourism department and as general secretary of the Swiss
ice hockey federation, claims credit for building up much of FIFA's financial
When he joined FIFA it was in a small
Zurich building with about 10 staff. One story says that it was Blatter who
went to the bank to get a loan when they could not be paid.
But FIFA made about $5.7 billion in the
four years between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
Football's world body now has 1 400 staff
and is sitting on a cash mountain of about $1.5 billion.
The workaholic Blatter says his main
achievement has been to make football "universal" - the first World
Cups in Asia (South Korea and Japan in 2002, although the decision was taken
before he became president) and Africa (South Africa in 2010) came in his
Hundreds of millions of dollars are given
to national federations and in development grants.
But since the day he became president in
1998, accusations of skulduggery have never been far from FIFA. The latest are
over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
In 2006 he tried to stop a book on FIFA's
scandals being published in Switzerland.
And so the football world was divided until
the Zurich arrests this year.
Just before the FIFA election, Dominican
Republic FA president Osiris Guzman compared Blatter to Jesus, Winston
Churchill, Moses, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.
The Asian, African and North-Central
American confederations all backed him.
But Europe turned against Blatter. UEFA
leader Platini said Blatter lied when he said in 2011 that he would stand down
when his fourth term ended in 2015.
Platini, now an arch-rival, said Blatter
could not bear a life of "emptiness" without FIFA's power and money.
Blatter, married three times, has relied a
lot on his daughter Corinne in recent months.
"He has a way of making people
dependent or indebted to him, but not in a way that people regret it," one
Blatter confidant said.