Zurich - At one minute past six on Friday evening in Zurich, Sepp
Blatter had a glass of white wine and exhaled deeply.
FIFA had finally elected a new president and Blatter was relieved
of the title after almost 18 years.
"It is a relief. I had this burden on me," he told The
Associated Press on Saturday, seeming at peace and enjoying his first day out
of FIFA's employment since 1975.
"It was even a welcome day yesterday, 18:01, when they had a
new president," Blatter said.
Blatter was unable to hand over power in person to Gianni
Infantino, 35 years younger and a fellow native of the rural Valais canton in
Banned from duty since October by FIFA's ethics committee, Blatter
was barred from attending the election hall across the city from his daughter's
apartment. There, they watched the tense event unfold on television.
"Being suspended or not, I was still the elected president.
And now it is finished," Blatter said, in an interview at the Sonnenberg
restaurant attached to the former FIFA headquarters that the scandal-rocked
soccer body still owns.
When the moment came that his beloved presidency ended, Blatter
said he was with his daughter, Corinne, sharing a bottle of white from his home
She is at her father's side also on Saturday morning for two
interviews, first, with a Swiss Sunday newspaper then the AP. There are just
bottles of still and sparkling water on the table in a private dining room
before they will take lunch at a restaurant that has become a Blatter salon in
The election was hailed as a potential new dawn for FIFA after
nine months of turmoil since American and Swiss federal prosecutors revealed
the scope of their investigations into corruption, which forced Blatter out
with three years left in his fifth presidential term.
On the day after, there are clear blue skies but the crisply cold
air on a hill overlooking Zurich left the 79-year-old Blatter feeling chill
during several minutes spent outside with the newspaper photographer.
Back inside, he soon warms to the task of praising Infantino and
explaining how he is at peace with life after running world soccer.
"It was important for FIFA to have a change," said
Blatter who, until this week, was defiant about insisting on his right to be at
the election. That hope ended two days earlier when the FIFA appeals committee
cut his ban to just six years from eight for financial conflicts of interest.
Still, the start of FIFA's Infantino era could only recall
parallels with Blatter.
They were born in neighbouring towns, Visp and Brig, and rose to
become president after being multi-lingual CEO-like top officials at,
respectively, FIFA and UEFA.
"He is a young man, he is powerful, he has a lot of energy,
and I am sure he will do the right job," Blatter said of Infantino, a
"It is a repetition of history, that is something," said
Blatter, who previously traded barbs with Infantino as part of wider tensions
between the two organizations. "If a majority of the 207 national
associations so clearly indicated where they want to go then I can only say,
'Gianni, good luck and do it.'"
He guessed the outcome after seeing the first-round result in
Friday's four-candidate vote. Infantino led 88-85 over pre-poll favorite Sheikh
Salman of Bahrain.
"This means that everybody is going for the winner for the
second (round)," said Blatter, who got two of his five FIFA election wins
when his opponent conceded after trailing in the first round.
The tactical shifts Blatter predicted lifted Infantino to a
decisive 115-88 victory. He understood on Thursday that the sheikh's
front-runner status through much of a four-month campaign might fade.
"I was not surprised with the result when I have known the
day before that there was no longer the packages by the confederations,"
he said, referring to potential bloc votes. "Finally, it was the African
votes that have made all the difference."
A key to Infantino's win was promising to more than double cash
grants to the 209 member federations.
Asked about likely media reaction had he made similar campaign
pledges, a smiling Blatter said: "They would have killed me. I was always
criticized by saying, 'He buys votes.'"
Blatter is "sure we have enough" money at FIFA to fund
Infantino's promises from the $5 billion-plus income from each World Cup.
The only advice he offered was Infantino should guide his
rebranded FIFA Council to hire a newly empowered CEO from outside Europe.
Blatter suggested "that would be wrong" to pick another
European after 112 years of only men from the sport's mother continent doing
the job, including himself from 1981-98.
Speaking gently, and with no hint of regret, he said of
Infantino's leadership challenges: "This is his problem now."
Blatter's main problem is a criminal proceeding against him opened
by Switzerland's attorney general last September for potential mismanagement of
FIFA money as president. Charges could follow within several months.
On this day, Blatter has a different focus, claiming he has
stopped being a workaholic, though he will pursue an appeal to clear his name
at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
He speaks of his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, and his
partner Linda Barras. After a health scare in November, he predicts being at
100 percent "in a few days."
"Love, tenderness, family — that's it," he said.
"These are good assets. I have realized that. Now I have another approach
to my life."