Graham Kelly: Why Blatter won backing of FA

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The Independent Online

Four years ago, the Fifa general secretary, Sepp Blatter, declared himself the latest of late runners for the presidency of the sport's world governing body, before absenting himself from the administration in order to mount his successful challenge to the Swede Lennart Johansson, the president of Uefa, Fifa's European counterpart.

Allegations about the means by which he – or his backers – fought the crucial final stages of that campaign have surfaced recently, along with speculation that Blatter has already committed revenue from the 2006 World Cup following the collapse of ISL, Fifa's marketing partner. It was ISL which strongly supported Blatter for the presidency whereas Team Ag, Uefa's long-time marketing partner for the Champions' League, backed Johansson.

In stark summary, Blatter has been accused of bribing his way to power, of turning a blind eye to corruption by his supporters on the executive committee of Fifa in return for their backing at this moment of high crisis.

Blatter's response has been to accuse the Uefa group of being sore losers and to say that in an election year his detractors have just sought to destabilise him. He has never commanded a majority on the Fifa executive committee and has found it necessary to install his own kitchen cabinet inside Fifa House in Zurich.

Such opposition as there is for the position of president is limited. Before the latest scandals were uncovered, Uefa had promised Blatter its backing for a further period. Recently, the alternative candidates, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon and Chung Mong-Joon of South Korea, neither of whom is a strong nor obvious choice at this time, have met.

When the Football Association entrusted its vote to Blatter in 1998, there were bitter recriminations, both in Europe and at home. Friends in Europe said we were perpetuating the corrupt regime of João Havelange by voting for Blatter. I told them they had had 24 years to find Havelange out and had done nothing, so it was a bit late to complain to England.

Some of the our leading clubs were concerned about us upsetting the might of Uefa by contributing to the defeat of Lennart Johansson. David Dein was particularly upset that we had turned against the Swede, who had always been a good friend of English football. And even the FA vice-chairman, Geoff Thompson, who later succeeded to the chair, could not be swayed from his opposition.

So why did we switch from Johansson to Blatter only three days before the election? The answer,of course, lies in the bid to bring the World Cup back to England after a gap of 40 years.

Whereas Johansson stood resolutely in the German corner, and indeed told us for two years we were not even entitled to bid, everywhere we went across the world we were informed we would have a better chance under Blatter's presidency.

Four years ago, around this time, I flew to Switzerland to lobby Blatter about our World Cup case. We went for dinner in a little restaurant in the Alps above Zurich. When the bill came, I was embarrassed to find that my credit card would not do nicely and Blatter ended up paying. He never made any promises to vote for England. We were, I believe, his second choice, after South Africa.

In the end it didn't work out for England, of course. While I respect Johansson for honouring his pledge to Germany I don't for one minute – even though indirectly it cost me my privileged position – regret trying to land the World Cup for England. For the supporters would have backed it in their many thousands. And I do believe that if you never try, you never achieve anything in life.

Under current circumstances it may smack of special pleading, but Blatter was also the younger,livelier candidate, with a track record of cleaning up the game since Italia 90, banishing the tackle from behind and the pass back to the goalkeeper.

It's ironic that, whilst he has become mired in financial murkiness, Blatter always saw himself as a romantic, as far as on-field issues were concerned, campaigning against the cynicism of coaches and the ultimate negativity of the win- at-all-costs mentality. The spirit of the law was paramount.

Blatter has tried manfully to stem the flow of criticism, but has failed to prevent the setting-up of a special committee to investigate Fifa's finances. On its verdict his immediate future will probably rest.

When a man is pushed to the limit, he will react in the most desperate manner. But desperation does not necessarily imply dishonesty. Blatter may still survive.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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