It’s sometimes difficult to understand how or why some people say the things that they do. Over a beer in the pub, discussing football, we can all come up with some ‘left field’ opinions and views on the game, and that’s fine. It’s an off the record chat that no-one really notices, remembers or cares about. On the other hand, if you’re FIFA President speaking to the Oxford Union, it’s a pretty safe bet that if you don’t mind your words carefully, someone might just hear about what you said.
Sepp Blatter has often come out with some strange views that he has tried to laugh off as mere off-the-cuff asides. The problem is that as FIFA President, you’re not really allowed to cultivate the image of the much-beloved, respected uncle who may be a little eccentric, but always gets it right. Unfortunately for Blatter, he isn’t loved, very few people outside of his coterie of hangers on respect him and quite often he gets it spectacularly wrong.
The comments at the Oxford Union are a case in point. Apparently he offered a fairly reasoned and complimentary appraisal of the merits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as two of the best players in the world. Sadly however, all that was lost as he then proceeded to offer what were doubtlessly intended to be some ‘lovable little asides’ such as saying the Potuguese had “more expenses at the hairdresser than the other.”
It appears from the video of the event that Blatter’s comments at the Oxford Union were: “They are both exceptional players, but they are totally different. They are totally different stars.”
“Lionel Messi is a good boy that every father and every mother would like to take home. He’s a good man, he’s very fast, and he’s not exuberant, he’s playing well, he’s dancing. He’s a kind man, a good boy. That’s what makes him so popular, and naturally he’ll always get a lot of votes because he plays well and scores goal. “
“The other one is something else. He is like a commander on the field of play.“
“This is the other side of football and it’s good to have commanders on the field.”
“They don't have the same attitude and that gives life to football. One has more expenses for the hairdresser than the other but that doesn't matter.”
“I can’t say who is the best – there will be a contest again this year at the Ballon d’Or.
“I like both of them, but I prefer Messi.”
What the words don’t show is that he apparently also performed what some have seen to be a mocking impression of Ronaldo, whilst it’s fair to say that others thought it was the opposite.
It’s probably not surprising that Ronaldo was not overly pleased by the comments. There’s a feeling around the Bernabeu that not only Messi, but also Barcelona are ‘the darlings’ of both UEFA and FIFA, and that many things go in their favour. There’s an irony here that for many years under the leadership of Caudillo Franco, it was Madrid that was always the establishment club, with untold underhand shenanigans constructed by the state to favour Los Blancos. All that said, Blatter’s comments do little to dispel the image of the Blaugrana as the ‘goody two-shoes’ of football that the establishment love to promote, and the apparent endorsement by Blatter to vote for Messi in the Ballon d’Or is always likely to fuel any feeling of persecution felt by Ronaldo. Having finished second to Messi on four occasions in the competition, when there’s probably a mere hair’s breadth between must be galling.
The Portuguese unsurprisingly, and with ill-disguised sarcasm, vented his anger by saying that “The video shows the respect and consideration that Fifa has for me, my club and my country. Much is explained now.” He went on to say “I wish Mr Blatter health and a long life, with the certainty that he’ll continue to witness the successes of his favourite teams and players.”
Probably unsurprisingly, the player’s stance has received support not only from his club, who as mentioned also harbour suspicions of an anti-Madrid bias, but also the Portuguese FA.
In fairness to the FIFA President, he has apparently written to a number of the interested parties apologising for any offence caused and stating that he considered Ronaldo and Messi to be at the same level. It will be cold comfort to Ronaldo though, who will feel that the damage is now done, and cannot be undone. Many people will probably sympathise with that sentiment and probably feel that the truth often slips out in the unguarded moments, regardless of any apology.
The biggest sadness of all of this is that it should never have happened, and must again bring into question the process that allows the head of multi-billion pound sporting bodies to operate in what appears to be so unprofessional a manner. He question must whether this man is the best person to run football’s governing body. I think I can guess at most people’s opinions.
I guess one of the ironies of all this may be that Blatter’s comments will probably have had little effect on the destination of the Ballon d’Or anyway. It’s likely that both Messi and Ronaldo will be overshadowed at the ceremony next week by Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery. That is, unless of course, someone very high up in FIFA decides on a few more unguarded comments.