Has Blatter Finally Met His Match?

All of us watched, with varying degrees of bemusement, as FIFA Grand Poobah Sepp Blatter worked feverishly to try and make the ExCo decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar make some kind of rational sense.

Because of course after all the lies and the bribes and the vote swapping was concluded the voters who were entirely responsible for the decision climbed back into their FIFA-funded private jets and zoomed home for joyous meetings with their personal bankers, mistresses and brokers, leaving poor Sepp to try and justify the unjustifiable to a skeptical - even incredulous - world sports media.

(A side note: In one of the weeks' more embarrassing events, disgraced - disgraceful? - French superstar Zinedine Zidane publicly struck back at those who were claiming that he had taken a $10 million payoff in return for supporting the Qatar bid. Outraged, he told reporters that "it was a lot less than that".

Now most people would prefer to be known as very expensive whores rather than cheap ones, but who can explain the minds of the French?)

As we saw, he did an utterly abysmal job of it, variously proposing January-February dates, which gave the IOC - who themselves have a little something planned for that period - apoplexy, and then declaring that by his calculations November and December would do just as well, causing everyone to question his basic sanity.

Finally last week he announced that the issue is now "settled" and that the 2022 World Cup WILL DEFINITELY BE HELD IN THE SUMMER as scheduled. The coterie of lapdogs who cover FIFA for a living duly reported his declaration without commenting on the basic fact of the matter, namely that Blatter was simply - and unsurprisingly - making pointless mouth noises the entire time.

As FIFA Vice President and ExCo member Mohamad bin Hammam, who is not coincidentally a Qatari national, CONSISTENTLY EXPLAINED to anyone who bothered to ask, there was no decision to be made. The Cup, he says, will be held in June as proposed and FIFA cannot change it.

When pressed on the subject in the face of Blatters' incessant babbling, bin Hammam told reporters that at most the topic was closed and would not be discussed under any circumstances until 2018, thereby making the not-so-subtle point that even if a change of some kind is made, Sepp Blatter won't have one damn thing to say about it since he'll be out of office long before then.

(UPDATE: The Emir of Qatar said today that HE'LL LET "THE PEOPLE" DECIDE when to hold the tournament.)

And, it should be noted, if Blatter is lucky enough to live until Qatar 2022 kicks off - and we know that only the good die young - he'll be 86 years old and parked in a comfy chair someplace gumming a bowl of Cream of Wheat. He sure as hell won't be making FIFA policy.

(Luckily though, since all FIFA officials - fired, retired or voted out - continue to receive their full salary, benefits and expenses package until the day they die, he'll have a cute french maid in a garter belt wiping the dribble off his chin.)

In short, even if there really was some kind of serious discussion going on - and there isn't - Blatter would be entirely irrelevant to it. All he was doing was attempting to put a shiny face on a ludicrous and embarassing decision for the benefit of a world football community which is increasingly critical of the openly corrupt way FIFA is run.

And he failed badly.

Of course this entire episode follows the same pattern as everything else Blatter does: He makes an announcement, then he backtracks, then he makes a statement which directly contradicts the first statement, then everyone gets tired of the whole thing and he movs on to something else.

But this time it's possible - just possible - that he has finally, at long last, let his mouth get him into enough trouble that he's not going to be able to get out of it and the threat is coming from a little-known organization called The EUROPEAN PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUES, which consists of the top professional leagues in 23 countries:

Ready?

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway,

Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Romania, the Ukraine and Serbia.

A couple of heavy hitters in there ya think?

Although it was founded in 2005 it hasn't really made much noise. That may be about to change in a big way.

As noted previously, FIFA has the best business model in the world in that they have a high demand, endlessly renewable product that costs them - quite literally - nothing. All they do is pass rules saying that the clubs who employ, train and develop the players are required to hand them over to a bunch of corruptocrat Federation and Confederation officials whenever FIFA says they must.

They in turn use said players to generate vast sums of money for themselves after which - if they haven't been injured of course - their clubs can have them back for a spell. As R. Lee Ermey might put it, the clubs don't even get the common courtesy of a reacharound. Just a tired, worn out, travel-weary star player who really needs a couple weeks off.

Of course none of this is really new, but as the years go by FIFA has created more and more international dates in

order to generate more and more income for the local Federations who sell the tickets, pocket the money and then re-elect the man who makes it all possible, Sepp Blatter.

In a decision reached last June, as kind of the opening salvo in Blatters' re-election campaign, FIFA quietly increased the number of international dates by fully 20% over the next four years, (from 38 to 46 between 2011 and 2014).

The clubs were not consulted and indeed were not even informed that the idea was being considered. It was simply presented to them as a done deal: we're going to be taking your players some more and since we make the rules you can like it or lump it.

When the EPFL complained, saying that it was reaching the point where the players were going to start breaking down, Blatter loftily replied that the "real problem" is that there are too many club matches. Cut down on those, he told them, and there won't be any problem.

They were still stewing about that decision when the Qatar vote came along and Blatter started telling everyone that FIFA was going to move the World Cup to the Winter months and that the professional leagues were going to have to change to a Summer schedule.

They went ballistic. Here was another example of the fact that FIFA can and will tell them how they are allowed to run their leagues and their clubs and nobody even picked up the phone and asked their opinion. They'll have to do as they're told.

Hundreds of millions, billions even, invested in clubs and players and venues and an organization run by a fat stupid Swiss guy who was elected by Swaziland and Papua New Guinea and St. Lucia gets to give them their marching orders.

But of course since Blatter backed down on the whole Winter World Cup idea, all's well that ends well, right?

Not according to the EPFL, who quickly issued this statement:

"Whilst the EPFL welcomes the assurances publicly given by Fifa president, Joseph S. Blatter, earlier this week, that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be held in summer as it has since 1930, the association cannot avoid expressing its dissatisfaction with the way such a significant matter was dealt with and Fifa’s decision back in June 2010 to overburden the international match calendar with eight additional dates over the 2011-2014 calendar cycle, which represents an increase of more than 20 per cent [from 38 to 46].

"This was another unilateral decision which causes major problems to leagues and clubs, taken without any prior explanation and consultation with those who it affects and accordingly would have a legitimate interest in having a say in the matter, such as our member leagues and clubs.

"The EPFL therefore invites Fifa to reconsider its decision-making process and enhance participative democracy."

In other words, thanks for that but we're not done. We want a seat at the table.

What this entire affair did accomplish is a sudden realization amongst the large European clubs that they are entirely at the mercy of the whims of a bunch of venal old men whose only interest is in living like oil shiekhs.

The fact is that they're the ones who have paid for and developed and heavily invested in the players who are the engines of FIFA's wealth. It's not the stars of the A League or the J League or the K League or - well, anyplace else. It's the major European clubs and leagues and they're tired of being ordered around.

And if push comes to shove they can get along without FIFA one whole hell of a lot better than FIFA can get along without them.

Because FIFA's biggest stick - the threat of expulsion and disqualification if you don't follow their instructions - is simply no threat at all against a united Europe. They can get along just fine with UEFA Cup and the European Championships and Champions league but how much money is a World Cup without the players who toil for clubs in Spain, Germany, England, France, Italy, Portugal and the rest of Europe going to generate?

If they really got together and refused to release their players, what is Blatter going to do about it?

Which puts our man Sepp in a tight spot.

He keeps increasing the number of international dates because the feds want them so they can stage useless freindlies and generate money for themselves. And the federations are already clamoring for more; Jack Warner for example wants Digicel Cup treated the same as the Euros, forcing clubs around the world to cough up their Caribbean players for as much as eight weeks from October into December.

But if the clubs force him to back down and give them some say in when and for what reasons they hand over their enormously expensive investments the feds are going to be very unhappy.

Right now, no one can say how all this will turn out; what I do know is that this is an election year and bin Hammam is waiting in the wings ready to pounce on any sign of weakness from Zurich. Not that he'd be likely to change much of course but he can hardly be worse. Or a bigger embarrassment.

I also know that the only way you can force FIFA to change is to start costing them money, and the only organization truly capable of doing that is the major clubs. Without the players they provide, FIFA's money machine will collapse like the proverbial house of cards.

Have they had enough? Will they really flex their muscles?

We may be about to find out.