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Keir RadnedgeWhere words are concerned, politicians insist, context is everything. This applies equally to sports politicians. Sepp Blatter’s latest controlled interview is a prime example.

The questions to which he answered emanated from L’Equipe.

So consider: The sports daily is owned by the Amaury group which partners FIFA in the world player gala (its European Footballer of the Year was swallowed up in the deal). It is also French. Hence Blatter was aware that he was speaking in French to a French audience while accepting that snippets would be picked up elsewhere.

Fair play to L’Equipe for asking all the relevant questions of the FIFA president two weeks before he takes charge of the world federation’s annual congress in Mauritius.

In considering his words remember the context of the questions.

First concerned his original stated intention of stepping down as FIFA president in 2015. He was asked to explain why he appeared to be reneging on that idea.

“One day you have to stop,” said Blatter. “I still have of stopping myself in 2015. But it’s necessary to lead forward the FIFA reform and be sure that my successor will ensure that football remains a universal sport. For me, that’s very important. I would not fight to stay. I would fight for that.

“I would point out that I am the same age as the new Pope who is just starting out. And the Italians have just confirmed a head of state [Giorgio Napolitano] who is 87 . . . So it’s not a question of age. But I an certain that in 2015 someone will be found to carry on the torch.”

If not, would be seek a further mandate?

“I am not a prophet but . . . I wouldn’t give up if someone wanted to change FIFA totally and it risked being led by the clubs no longer by the national associations.”

Is that a real danger?

“With the concentration of money in the big European clubs, there has to be a tendency to want to take command.”

Blatter was then asked his opinion of Michel Platini, L’Equipe’s French ‘compatriot’, as a possible successor.

“He’s a good candidate,” said Blatter. “With Michel it’s been said: ‘Let’s finish the FIFA reform first and only then talk about the future.’ There’s time to discuss these things, no need to rush. We can review all this later on.”

Would you support him?

“If he would maintain the concept of ‘universal football’ then yes.”

Is he the obvious candidate?

“He’s my obvious candidate,” said Blatter in recalling their work together in FIFA and then as respectively presidents.

Then he yanked away the FIFA welcome mat by repeating his criticism of the pan-European Euro 2020 as well as Platini’s preference for goal-line assistants rather than technology.

He also dropped out the possibility of Spain’s Angel Villar being a “serious European candidate” along with secretary-general Jerome Valcke and ex-FIFA insider Jerome Champagne.

He reviewed the reform process and shrugged off suggestions both that it had come too late and taken too long and that FIFA had a negative image abroad. The latter, said Blatter, was the fault of “certain” press coverage and was only a European issue.

The interview then turned to the issue of the World Cup award to Qatar in 2022.

Blatter denied that any votes “could have been bought” while noting that political influences would have been brought to bear on FIFA exco members just as happened with host votes within the International Olympic Committee. He should know; he is a member of both.

This is where the odd reference to England arose. After the political influence reference Blatter said: “England didn’t get the 2018 World Cup and, afterwards, came the cold war with FIFA . . .”

That was a reference to what he has always perceived as a ‘sour grapes’ response evidenced by the FA’s fatuous opposition to his unopposed re-election as FIFA president.

Returning to one of the Platini themes Blatter addressed for 2022 and the summer/winter debate.

Again consider the context: L’Equipe’s sister magazine France Football has enjoyed rehashing all the wrangling surrounding the vote including Platini’s tete-a-tete with the Emir of Qatar at the dinner table of then state President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Do you wish the 2022 finals could be switched to the winter?

“For that, the hosts would need to ask. So far, they have not done so. My colleague and friend [sic] Michel Platini has said that one cannot play in the summer in Qatar. But, to play in the winter, one must change the international calendar. Would that be right for one season?

“In any case, I am in favour of World Cup playing a sporting, social and culture role. There aren’t 36 different options here. In 2022, in Qatar, one cannot play in the summer.”

So here is Platini’s FIFA candidacy, on his views right and wrong, on the risk that he may be controlled by the big clubs and on becoming tied up in knots over Qatar.

The entire over-arching theme of the interview is Platini. Even when he is not being mentioned as in the constricted exchanges on doping, matchfixing and racism.

Context is everything.

By Keir Radnedge

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