Wily Sepp controls weapon to which there is no defence
William Langley profiles the 'Blofeld of football' who uses cash to minimise resistance
Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30
From his granite-lined lair, 50ft beneath a velvety Swiss hillside, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, the Blofeld of football, controls the weapon against which there is no defence.
The billions Fifa has amassed during Blatter's 17 years in charge, are constantly, ingeniously deployed, and targeted to minimise resistance.
Fifa is non-profit in theory, but that doesn't mean it can't make people rich. Blatter, the organisation's high-living 79-year-old president is a good case in point, and the largesse trickles on down a long line of supplicants united by their ability to say "Yes, boss" in any of 85 different languages.
Many of Fifa's regional "representatives" come from places where the national team would struggle to beat a Sunday morning park side, but along with the money they all get a vote, and as Friday's re-enthronement showed, it's usually for Blatter.
The old maestro continues to play the angles beautifully, likening himself to a mountain goat that never makes a fatal misstep. Yet there's the ominous rumble of an avalanche in the distance, and it's heading Blatter's way. The US Justice Department's investigation into alleged corruption within Fifa is the greatest threat yet to his grandmasterly control.
He has not been named as a suspect, but prosecutors claim to have identified a pattern of bribery and money laundering stretching back through his entire time in charge. Last week, consoled by the presence of his glamorous current "companion", Linda Barras, - 30 years his junior and the wife of a wealthy Swiss estate agent - Blatter declared himself the right man to clean up the mess.
It never pays to underestimate this suave son of a provincial factory worker. In the course of a long, varied career (although not so varied as to include a stint as a professional footballer), Blatter has acquired not only wealth and power, but near-mystical status as a survivor.
Sepp was raised poor in the small town of Visp. The brightest of four children, he won a place at Lausanne University. To pay the fees, he worked through the holidays at ski resorts, and, for a while, as a singer at weddings. After graduating, he moved into public relations.
Some years later, while working as a marketing executive for Longines, he made a crucial connection. Horst Dassler, the multi-millionaire heir to the Adidas sportswear company, wanted an ally within Fifa, and lobbied to get Blatter the job of technical director. Within a few years he was general secretary, and in 1988 became president.
No one, with the possible exception of Bernie Ecclestone, has shaped a sport so completely to their will. Yet the Blatter era has unfolded to claims of malpractice and controversies that have ranged from the comic to the shocking. Among his suggestions are that women's football would be more popular if the players wore tighter kit.
His salary is not disclosed, because - as Markus Kattner, his head of finance said - "we don't have to," but it is estimated to be around €11.2m a year. Currently, there are other things he needs more than money. Such as a good lawyer. And, perhaps, a white Persian cat.