Football never loses its capacity to surprise – not least when Sepp Blatter is in town. So it was on Friday evening when the Fifa president addressed the Oxford Union and, perhaps inspired by the news that a movie about world football's governing body, F2014, is in production, offered a packed debating chamber an unlikely thespian turn.
There had been boos mixed with applause when the Swiss septuagenarian entered the wood-panelled debating chamber but his crowd-winning impersonation of Cristiano Ronaldo meant he at least signed off on a high note.
Seated in the second row, The Independent on Sunday got the perfect view of a moment that will be soon be available to relive via the Union's YouTube channel. Asked if he preferred Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, Blatter described the latter as a "good boy" and then turned his attentions to Ronaldo, raising himself out of his leather chair, puffing his chest out and attempted to mimic a moody, strutting Ronaldo. "The other one, he is like a commander on the field of play," he said of the Portuguese, adding: "Ronaldo has more expenses for the hairdresser."
Blatter delivered a 45-minute address in which he preached the message that the British press had got it all wrong and he was not in fact the "evil Sheriff of Nottingham" but rather a footballing Robin Hood, "taking the money we get from our commercial partners and ploughing it back into the grassroots of the game for all to benefit".
The 190-year-old Oxford Union has a long tradition of launching political careers – as the busts inside the chamber of Gladstone, Macmillan and Heath would testify. It has welcomed world figures from Richard Nixon to Mother Teresa and Katie Price, though two weeks earlier it was that famous political survivor, George Galloway, who shared his thoughts.
Blatter, over the course of his 15-year presidency, has an even greater history of escapology than "Gorgeous George". It turns out he has been beating the odds all his life too, as he recounted the tale of his premature birth and how his grandmother wrote off his chances of survival. "Looking back, perhaps some of my friends in the British media might have agreed wholeheartedly with my grandmother," he quipped.
And it turned out that the Cherwell student newspaper's front-page headline about "Sinister Misogyny" had nothing to do with the visit of a man who once suggested female footballers wear tight shorts but was instead about the antics of a college rugby team. Blatter, as he told us, had done more for the women's game during his time at Fifa than anybody. Taking the World Cup to Africa was another of his triumphs.
With the usual questions from the floor prohibited, he signed off instead with a short Q&A session with the Union's president. Blatter gave a politician's answer to the question of migrants' workers rights in Qatar – "We cannot interfere directly in the working principles of a country but we can tell them if you don't stop that it can have consequences" – but did stress that Fifa had cleaned up its act since the controversial vote on the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
"If you go back to the people in the election for the World Cup in December 2010, of these 22 members 11 have left – some because they had to leave but most of them have been kicked out. We have started to instil order and discipline in our organisation." And then he stood up and pretended to be Ronaldo.
Students of Oxford, welcome to the world of Joseph S Blatter – a law unto himself.Reuse content