Sepp Blatter has suggested that, if he had had a vote, he would have cast it for Gianni Infantino in the election for a new president of world football federation FIFA last month.
Infantino defeated Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in the second round of voting after Blatter had stepped down under the weight of the last scandal-scarred years.
Blatter, banned from all activities for six years by the FIFA ethics committee for financial misconduct, followed the election congress via an iPad in the company of his daughter Corinne.
In an interview with Blick to mark his 80th birthday – today – Blatter said the moment Infantino was confirmed in the job he felt as if a large weight had fallen from his shoulders.
Blatter refused to comment on whether Infantino would do a better job in turning FIFA around than his former UEFA president, Michel Platini, who had been long considered as Blatter’s ‘dauphin’.
Referring to Infantino, from a neighbouring town in the canton of Valais, Blatter said: “”I have known him for many years though we never had close contact. But when we meet, we greet each other with a hug, as two Oberwalliser. He has a difficult task but he can master it.”
Blatter confirmed reports before the election that several of FIFA’s 209 had contacted him for advice about how to cast their vote. His advice: “I stayed faithful to the principle of Swiss loyalty.”
Infantino was the only Swiss citizen among the five candidates though Jerome Champagne, a close aide of Blatter for a decade at FIFA, has Swiss residency and lives locally in Zurich.
However Blatter is opposed to Infantino’s manifesto promise to expand the World Cup finals from 32 to 40 teams.
Blatter said: “I can’t see this as a good idea. You should stay with 32 teams at the World Cup. The system has proven itself a good one. But if one says 40 teams then the next will say 44 and where will it end? Maybe 128 teams in a knockout system? That would be a really creative innovation!”
The ethics suspension was imposed on Blatter just before Christmas and his last hope of attending and presiding over congress ended when the verdict of wrongdoing was upheld by the FIFA appeal committee days before the world game came to Zurich.
He professed no regret at not having an opportunity to formally bid congress farewell but was irritated at feeling virtually airbrushed from FIFA history.
He said: “[Not being there] did not affect me. I think congress would probably have been shaken up a little if I had been there. But I would have thought that, at the start or the end of congress, something would have been said about my work.”
In any case, he remained confident about the stability of the FIFA he had left behind.
Blatter said: “I am proud of FIFA because, despite the turmoil in the executive suite, it remains solid. All the competitions have taken place successfully and all the development courses were conducted. That is a compliment. The foundation of FIFA is strong. It’s like a functioning democracy:
“Just because the boss changes doesn’t mean everything else breaks down.”
Not that Blatter had given up the expectation of resurrecting his reputation. As he said: “The first thing I want to experience now is that the Court of Arbitration for Sport acquits me. This should be done by the end of April.
“Then I just want, if my business is done, that I should be recognised at not necessarily the next congress or the one after but some time in the next 20 years. History will be my judge.”