Respect a farce in football fiefdom of Teflon Don Blatter

SEPP BLATTER will be elected unopposed for another term as FIFA President in Zurich later today and there’s absolutely nothing you or I can do about it because we’re not part of The Family.

It’s hard to avoid stale references to The Godfather but Blatter’s absurd press conference on Monday leaves me with little choice: he’s the Don and how dare the press show such little respect on this, the day of his daughter’s wedding.

The abiding memory of a thoroughly entertaining half-hour was that of a pathetic-looking Blatter being shepherded out after the last question by his hapless Director of Communications who had all the wisdom and powerlessness of Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen (he could never be Don).

The gathered media raged, calling for one more question, and the FIFA chief couldn’t help himself. His response to a request for respect meandered down a dead end about, well, “respect and elegance”. And then it was done.

The Family had survived the power grab: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

This piggy-backing on morality and the family unit is something that has always irritated me about how football is run these days. It’s a transparent bid to attract and maintain certain sponsors, obviously, but it’s also a callous way of feigning inclusiveness when, really, the house on the Zurich hill is as impervious as any organisation could possibly be.

What was particularly galling about Monday’s contrived lecture about morality was Blatter’s attempt to align himself with the values that brought Barcelona back to their rightful position as Europe’s greatest.

He invoked Lionel Messi et al in a desperate attempt to cheerlead the “Fair Play” initiative, trying to convince us (he was talking to all football fans, apparently) that Xavi and Iniesta spent their formative years picking players up off the ground. It had nothing to do with them as individuals that they managed to combine skills and humanity, nothing to do with their family and friends. It was, in fact, those cute little mascots with the sickly yellow banner who we regularly see shoved out ahead of the players by a FIFA employee with a walkie-talkie.

It’s an insult to those players and the hard yards put in by their club to somehow have their glory extracted out by a comically unpopular FIFA president for the purposes of saving his own hide. And it’s an insult to us to think that we are being lectured, through the press, about the importance of “faith, energy and moral [sic]” — Blatter’s response to how his organisation will proceed after all the bloody reprisals that are ripping the executive committee apart.

Faith, energy and moral. That’s the way to beat “the little devils”.

Some football people in the US feel left behind by FIFA after the decision to hand the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. It’s hard to know whether, nefarious activity aside, the potential of limitless petrodollars out east forced the switch away from a desire to continue the development of the game in America.

Their work isn’t done here but rather it’s at a crucial crossroads. While Major League Soccer is growing (the newly joined Portland Timbers have an average attendance above 30,000) and youth coaching is incredibly strong and innovative, it will never challenge the big three (or four).

And although Coca-Cola have expressed reservations about the strife at FIFA, the reaction in the US has been largely muted, covered up in no small part by a major fallout in College Football (the gridiron kind) as exposed by yesterday’s Sports Illustrated.

In the Mid West and deep south, football and God have an equal grip. Only Ohio State University (OSU) has any hope of challenging the current dominance of the South Eastern heartland of the game: Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas.

But then America woke up on Memorial Day (Monday) to the news of the ‘resignation’ of the Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel, a man “lauded for his sincerity and his politeness [by] people who admire his faith in God [and] often mention the prayer-request box on the desk in his office”.

In a system where student athletes can’t so much as look in the direction of a dollar bill, his crime was to cover up OSU players’ profiteering off sports memorabilia such as medals and personal awards in order to cover their soon-to-be million-dollar bodies with elaborate tattoos.

For all his sanctimonious morality, Tressel (salary: €3m a year) was just another Machiavellian, hellbent on winning and its rewards.

According to SI, players “often sat together before meetings or at the start of practice for 10 minutes of ‘quiet time’ to read about virtues such as humility, faith and gratitude. Tressel liked to say his teams ‘play as hard as we can play’ but also ‘respect as hard as we can respect’.”

Sounds familiar.

* john.w.riordan@gmail.com; Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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