The pressure of the undeclared but increasingly nasty knife fight with Michel Platini over the future leadership of FIFA is clearly beginning to get to Sepp Blatter. In the middle of a charm offensive designed to convince the British that, despite the fact that for years now every time some issue comes up which demonstrates his obvious incompetence, egregious personal dishonesty and cheerful tolerance of massive amounts of theft and bribery, he manages to find some way to blame it on England, Blatter is now embarked on a "Love Bombs Over Britain"* tour of Old Blighty, for reasons which defy understanding.
It's not like anyone over there is likely to suddenly decide this corrupt old fart who's been kicking John Bull in the balls for 20 years now isn't really such a bad guy after all. That ship sailed long ago.
(* Jackets, t-shirts and light sticks coming soon)
Last Friday, during an appearance at Oxford Union, someone from the audience asked Sepp who he thought should win the World Player of the Year Award, Ronaldo or Messi. It's exactly the type of softball question sports executives love, since it represents one less pointed inquiry about bribery, theft and corruption.
Everyone knows that you're supposed to babble for a minute or two about how "they're both great competitors" who each bring their own "unique style and passion for the game" and blah, blah, blah until everyone's eyes glaze over.
The FIFA media guys in attendance probably grinned at each other: here's one even the Old Man can't screw up.
Little did they know.
Blatter began by referring to the Argentine as "Leonard" and continued, somewhat oddly, that Messi is "a good boy that every father, every mother would like at home".
On the other hand, he said, Ronaldo is "a commander on the field of play". So far so good I guess.
Then, to the shock, disbelief, nay even horror of those in attendance, Sepp leaped to his feet, mimed stiffly pulling on a military hat and began a sort of spastic goose step on the stage like a Wehrmacht corporal on peyote.
Then, perhaps noticing the uncomfortable laughter of the audience - not to mention the FIFIA media flunky looking for something sharp to open a vein with - Blatter figured maybe a joke was called for to lighten the moment, and offered up the following:
"One has more expenses for the hairdresser than the other but that doesn't matter" which did indeed get the assemblage laughing.
Then, perhaps remembering that he's the President of FIFA and not a bartender in a cheesy hotel lounge, he added: "I cannot say who is the best, there will again be a contest this year - I like both of them but I prefer Messi."
He then finished with a flourish by first getting the award month wrong, which he blamed on his by-now hyperventilating media aide and then hastily added that in addition to the Ballon d'Or for the "players", they would also be naming the best of the "girls" which he then tried to correct by calling them "ladies".
It was a bravura performance by a man who is clearly well past his sell-by date.
It probably won't shock you to learn that there are those who feel these remarks were, to say the least, inappropriate.
Ronaldo himself was first off the mark, posting that Blatters comments "show clearly the respect and consideration that FIFA has for me, for my club and my country" and added:
"Much is explained now. I wish Mr. Blatter health and a long life, with the certainty that he will continue to witness, as he deserves, the successes of his favourite teams and players."
Next up was Fernando Gomes, President of the Portuguese Federation (FMF) who said in an official statement:
"It was with surprise I watched and analysed the words of Sepp Blatter about the captain of our national team"
"I think the comments... show a clear lack of respect both towards Ronaldo and Portugal, a country that lives its football intensely."
Gomes also (rightly) called it "inappropriate" for the head of soccer's governing body to express a preference for Messi in a vote which has yet to be taken, and concluded:
"We sent FIFA a letter asking for the president to tell us what are the real intentions of his words".
This was quickly followed by a public letter from Real Madrid President Florentino Perez to Sepp Blatter demanding "clarification" of his remarks which, Perez bluntly stated, clearly demonstrated "a lack of respect to a very serious and very professional player".
Then after noting that Real was in fact one of the founders of FIFA, he called Blatters' comments "unfortunate and unacceptable" and said they had caused "enormous disappointment" to the club and their fans and added that Seppy's admission that he preferred Messi over Ronaldo could affect the voting for the World Player award, which has yet to be conducted.
Now to be completely fair, Ronaldo hasn't won the thing since 2008, a fact which has reportedly pissed him off anyway, so there was already some question about whether he was likely to attend the gala ceremony anyway.
Sitting there trying to look unperturbed while Messi holds up the trophy once again wasn't all that likely even before Blatter forgot to take his meds. Now, well, they might as well just save the postage.
Still, as amusing as this whole kerfuffle is, it's a bit unfortunate since it has tended to overshadow his remarks earlier in the day.
(All of this, incidentally, was leading up to the gala FA 150th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, presided over by William, Duke of Cambridge and also attended by Michel Platini, who could be forgiven for wearing a little grin all night.)
In an incredible speech to Oxford undergrads, Blatter vented his spleen, saying in part:
"Perhaps you think I am a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of the world and out of football! The Godfather of the FIFA gravy train! An out-of-touch, heartless schmoozer!"
(Well, now that you mention it..)
"There are not many names that the media haven't thrown at me in the last few years. And I would be lying to you if it did not hurt, even if you know that it goes with the territory.
"You would have to have a heart of stone for it not to hurt. You ask yourself, what have I done?"
(How much time do you have?)
"There are those who will tell you that FIFA is just a conspiracy, a scam, accountable to nobody and too powerful for anyone to resist."
"There are those who will tell you of the supposed sordid secrets that lie deep in our Bond villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich, where we apparently plot to exploit the unfortunate and the weak.
"They would have you believe that I sit in my office with a sinister grin, gently stroking the chin of an expensive, white Persian cat as my terrible sidekicks scour the earth to force countries to host the World Cup and to hand over all of their money
"You might have been led to believe FIFA is the evil Sheriff of Nottingham of football. But the truth is we have more in common with Robin Hood."
There's so much pure comedy there it would be impossible to comb through it all.
Instead, I'll just point out that it's no coincidence that he made these remarks in England, since it's the British press who is primarily responsible for public image he apparently resents so much.
Either way, the old boy had a pretty bad day. There's no word on whether he followed it up the next day by spilling gravy on Prince Bill or throwing up on his shoes, but however it all worked out, FIFA's media fixers were doubtless greatly relieved when they were finaly able to stuff his ass back into his private jet and get the hell out of there.
FIFA is in the very best of hands.