A couple weeks ago a reporter with the Wall Street Journal was able to get FIFA President Sepp Blatter on the phone and came away with what was - judging by the world wide media response - an enormous scoop.
"Blatter says he's "Finished With Football" the headlines assured us as writer after writer made the case that The Swiss Gasbag was tired of the fight and had finally decided to bow to the inevitable, toss in his hand and go quietly into that good night.
It was an astonishing performance from a lot of guys who ought to have known better. Why it's almost as if the utterly clueless Grant Wahl had taken over every soccer writing job on the planet, instead of just doing sideline reporting for Fox, thus denying some earnest young blond J school grad with a nice rack the chance to make an honest buck.
Because anyone who's paid even the slightest attention to the phenomenon that is Our Boy Sepp instead of just bellying up to the succulent FIFA media chow line knows damned good and well that Blatter has not and never will give up on the job he was elected to and which, should the balloting be held again today, he would easily be elected to again.
Don't believe me? Let's put it as a mental exercise:
Suppose that next week in Zurich FIFA's appeals committee, rather than affirming the Judicial Committee's findings as it almost certainly will, instead issues an official ruling that Blatter's suspension was unlawful and unjustified and demanding that he be reinstated at once.
How "finished with football" do you think the old boy would be then?
How many nanoseconds do you suppose it would take for Seppy to hop into the official FIFA car he still has at his disposal* and start frantically beating the driver about the head and neck because he wasn't driving 200 kph getting to his palatial office at FIFA HQ where he would march in like Christ come to cleanse the Temple, settle his wrinkly old tush into his exquisite custom desk chair and start firing people?
(*Inexplicably, after the suspension ruling FIFA confiscated his cell phone and blocked him from his email address - the only one he's ever had - but he gets to keep the car and the official Presidential apartment until someone else is elected to replace him.)
And that's aside from asking how "finished with football"someone is when they're paying a whole boatload of white shoe lawyers, including a former Assistant US Attorney General, to fight his suspension tooth and nail, filing mountains of paperwork in every venue they can think of and appearing at every hearing to plead his case in person, as he certainly will again next week when the Appeals Committee hears his case.
Or sending out his traditional year-end state-of-the-game letter to all 209 member federations, letting them know how splendid everything is despite his current unfair persecution at the hands of the Euro/US conspiracy. Was this because he couldn't find anything at the Hallmark store which hit exactly the right tone?
Why, just this week, Russia - demonstrating all the deft subtlety and nuance for which they are so famous - announced that they have already invited Blatter to come to World Cup 2018 as their Special Honored guest. Any bets on whether Sepp will be too "finished with football" to accept the invite and just stay home and binge watch Orange is the New Black?
But all of that pales before the scene which FIFA is facing in just two weeks as they convene the "Special Congress" at which the four remaining candidates for President will submit to a vote.
(Sadly, Tokyo Sexwale dropped out last week after not getting the endorsement of the African Confederation, one of whose members caustically commenting that the job required a little bit more in the way of experience and qualifications than "I spent some time in the same prison as Nelson Mandela".
It seems that Sepp, through one of his wildly expensive lawyers, has informed FIFA that Blatter intends to appear at the Congress on February 26 and make an address to the assemblage.
What's more, despite FIFA's insistence that they will not allow him entry to the building - and I can't wait for the photos - it appears that his attorneys plan on fighting it out and, what's more, they may have a strong case.
You'll recall that, as I've said previously, Blatter maintains that the only body which can remove him from office is the body which elected him. As we know FIFA disputes this.
BUT however that may be, even FIFA's lawyers are now admitting that there are only two ways to remove a sitting President permanently (as opposed to suspending him):
One is by majority vote of the Congress.
The second is by resignation.
In the first case, the Congress has not, and most likely would not, vote him out of office. Whch is a moot question anyway since the agenda for the upcoming Congress is already set and, by statute, it's too late to change it.
Which leaves us with resignation.
As you will recall, Sepp hasn't actually ever formally resigned, despite what 50,000 worldwide headlines stated.
Rather, what he said - and it was only verbal, nothing was put it writing - that he intended to"lay down my mandate" at a Special Congress.
Is this an actual resignation, or a kind of backhand pledge to do soat some date in the future?
More importantly, how binding is it?
FIFA now says that since Blatter referred to his intention to leave office in a letter he sent out to all 209 federations, that qualifies as a resignation.
Unfortunately for them, virtually every European lawyer who has been consulted finds this to be pretty weak sauce. The consensus seems to be that if I doesn't say "I resign" over Sepp's signature, then it's not worth anything.
You also may recall that to be elected President a candidate has to get 2/3 of the vote on the first ballot or over 50% in a runoff.
And as we've said before, if no one clears the hurdles -which is no problem since abstentions count - they could still hold an election, have no winner and be faced with the reality that Sepp Blatter is still the legal President of FIFA.
He'd still be suspended - nobody can change that but the CAS and they're unlikely to, and in any case they won't even begin hearing the case until June at the earliest - but he will still get to keep the car and the apartment and the title.
In other words, it seems like no matter what the Congress does, FIFA is looking at a standoff.
Maybe Sepp's game is just that he wants the chance to speak to the Congress, defend his reign, receive a couple standing ovations and then handover the office with some dignity.
If that's what he really wants, FIFA would be better off to just grit their teeth and go along.