Last Saturday morning, the “tomorrow” on which change at Fifa was supposed to start, one of nine newly elected men to waddle across the lapis lazuli floor of its executive committee room and pull up a chair under its sweeping crystal halo chandelier was the never knowingly under-tagined shape of Tunisia’s Tarek Bouchamaoui.
As a one-time member of the inner circle of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a man whose untimely departure from office was hastened by the self-immolation of a lowly fruit-and-veg seller at the advent of the Arab Spring, Mr Bouchamaoui understands better than most the lesson history reiterated in that great uprising – that the toppling of a tyrant rarely heralds the brave new world its instigators intend.
At least, in the end, no one had to set fire to themselves for Sepp Blatter to see the writing not so much on the wall as on the US Attorney General’s website, although if the right sort of offer had come in from a publicity-craving bookmaker we would not have questioned David Ginola’s willingness to step in for the good of the game.
But already the signs are concerning. Colonel Gaddafi, to his credit, had the humility to go and hide in a sewer, yet what should now emerge but a newly sports-jacketed Sepp, back at his desk, breaking his week-long social media omerta with promises of a “comprehensive programme of reform” already under way.
That truly is a historical novelty. The ousted despot, turning up the next day in his casuals, drafting a replacement constitution for the new guy.
But that picture of Blatter, back in the office, back to work, and tweeted by himself, could scarcely be a more apposite tableau of the severity of the problems Fifa now faces.
Contenders to replace Sepp Blatter as Fifa president
Contenders to replace Sepp Blatter as Fifa president
1/6 Michel Platini
Current president of Uefa. Voted for the Qatar World Cup, which makes position somewhat difficult. Asked Blatter to resign before elections.
2/6 Prince Ali Al-Hussein
The Jordanian was the only contender against Blatter when the elections took place. Managed to pick up 73 votes from the Fifa executive committee to Blatter's 133. Has already confirmed he will stand again.
3/6 David Gill
The former Manchester United chief executive refused to take up his place on the Uefa executive committee after Blatter's re-election. 'My professional reputation is critical to me and I simply do not see how there will be change for the good of world football while Mr Blatter remains in post,' he said at the time.
4/6 Luis Figo
Former Real Madrid and Barcelona player announced himself as a candidate for the most recent election but pulled out in protest at how it was being run, saying the process was 'anything but an election'.
5/6 Jerome Champagne
Also announced himself as president contender but failed to gain the minimum five nominations required. The Frenchman is a former Fifa deputy general secretary and has been a fierce critic of Uefa.
6/6 Michael van Praag
Dutch FA president was also a contender for president before pulling out in order not to split support between himself and Price Ali.
Already he has claimed that the “particular duty” to force through the reforms he has no business making will fall to Fifa’s executive committee. But this is a body which his American nemeses consider to be part of “The Enterprise” – the term the FBI usually attaches to organised crime syndicates is there in its lengthy indictment – and which poses an existential threat to the whole organisation.
The moment for reform was, at a conservative estimate, any time in the 34 years since Blatter has been either world football’s No 1 or 2. Now, Sepp twitters as Fifa burns.
In any case, how can the organisation reform itself? The proposed fixed terms, age limits, salary transparency, proper structures that demand good governance, are all very well, but one thing Fifa is too late to turn its back on is its vast vapacity to accumulate wealth.
All football’s real electorate, the fans, truly want is a World Cup every four years that’s handed out to a host in a fair way, that takes place in a suitable location and with affordable tickets. And it’d be nice too if it all didn’t feel like a taxpayer-funded advert for the world’s biggest brands, and could be put on in a way that didn’t, for example, make a nation like Brazil – Brazil! – protest against holding it.
If there’s money left over, from the deep pockets of Coke and McDonald’s, there is possibly a vague desire among football’s fans for it to be spent developing football in parts of the world that can’t afford to do it for themselves.
But how do you stop an organisation whose financial tentacles spread into 209 countries suddenly becoming attractive to the type of person whose only interest in great piles of cash is to make sure it is all properly accounted for? Few such people exist.
That Fifa should be so intractably screwed is almost a geopolitical accident. That the powerful European and South American nations are simply outnumbered by the comparative minnows of Africa, Asia and the Pacific is not something even Fifa can be blamed for. That Europe plus half of South America plus North America – where football’s wealth comes from – just doesn’t add up to the same kind of voting countries as Africa and Asia is the same kind of unlucky electoral maths that will cause the ghost of Nick Clegg to haunt the bank accounts of a generation of students for the rest of their lives.
Africa revels in the footballing power it now wields over its former colonial masters. How revealing that South Africa’s Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s response to the emergence of letters documenting secret bribes paid to Fifa’s corrupt masters has been to compel his nation’s journalists to be “patriotic”, not to “vandalise” its achievements, and to blame everything on “those who want to keep Africans as hewers of wood and drawers of water”.
In Asia, at least in the realm of sports politics, Fifa does what its sheikhs dictate. Its appetite for change is precisely zero. Even the Europeans, led by Michel Platini, now conniving to regain control, have been at the heart of its most self-destructive decision: Qatar. And as the FBI’s net continues to close, any entirely unnamed mercurial sweepers out there who happen to have been marked out of the 1966 World Cup final by Sir Bobby Charlton have more than a few reasons to be fearing the wurst.
Where the FBI goes next in this grand cleansing of football’s temple is thrillingly exciting. We can but hope it is no coincidence that down the road from Fifa’s Swiss headquarters the Large Hadron Collider has just been switched back on, and that the next stage is to fire Fifa’s corpulent executives at one another at very high speed and see what secrets come tumbling out.
Such is the momentum of destruction in this Zurich Spring that it has ceased to be a question of how Fifa might be reformed, but whether it can survive. If anyone wants it to, the first thing they must do is to stop Blatter making up the rules.Reuse content