Julio Grondona: Football executive and ally of Sepp Blatter who became one of the most powerful figures in the world game

 

Julio Grondona was the long-standing, and occasionally controversial, head of the Argentine Football Association. President of the AFA since 1979, he was a powerful ally of Sepp Blatter, President of Fifa, the world game's governing body, who gad recently announced that he would step down next year as head of Fifa's finance committee.

Grondona caused controversy in 2003 when he responded to a journalist's question about refereeing standards in Argentina. "I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level. It's hard work and, you know, Jews don't like hard work." He had also gone on record as saying, "Jews don't like it when it gets rough."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he wasn't a fan of England. In 2011 he was interviewed by German journalists, who asked about who he voted for in the process of deciding who would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which went to Russia and Qatar respectively.

"With the English bid I said: Let us be brief. If you give back the Falkland Islands, which belong to us, you will get my vote. They then became sad and left." He later apologised.

Grondona rose from modest roots. He helped found the Arsenal de Sardani club and was a director there from 1957 until he left in 1976 to take over the presidency of a bigger club, Independiente. He became head of the AFA three years later.

Grondona became one of world football's most powerful figures, despite speaking almost no English. "I speak only Spanish," he said. "But I have an advantage over the rest of the polyglots. I speak the language of football very well."

Critics blamed him for the endemic fan violence in Argentine football, where every club match faces the threat of violence by hooligan groups. Grondona said the problem simply reflected the growing violence on the streets of the country.

He was also heavily criticised by Diego Maradona, who blamed him for many of the festering problems in Argentinian football. Grondona hired Maradona as coach of the national side coach but sacked him after Argentina lost in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup. During this year's tournament, Maradona responded to being called a "bad luck charm" by Grondona by showing him the middle finger on live television.

A son, Humberto, was questioned by Fifa during the World Cup in Brazil, amid media reports that he had sold some tickets for profit. Fifa said later that he "most probably" gave tickets to a friend and did not sell them.

VICENTE L PANETTA

Julio Grondona, football executive: born 18 September 1931; died 30 July 2014.

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