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Sports

Blatter: FIFA's messiah and devil

People have long wondered how FIFA President Sepp Blatter has survived so many scandals unscathed. Now, with his announced resignation, time is up for the manipulator. DW takes a look back at Blatter's rise to infamy.

Joseph (Sepp) Blatter used to play football. As an attacking midfielder in the 1960s, he took to the field for FC Visp in Switzerland's highest amateur league. At his hometown club he was also a player and head coach. But no one believed back then that he would become the world's most powerful football official.

Born in 1936, Blatter was the second of three boys. The mechanic's son grew up in the canton of Wallis in the town of Visp, not far from the Matterhorn.

After finishing school, Blatter studied business and economy in Lausanne. He soon moved into the world of PR, where he first worked for the canton's tourist association and then for a watch manufacturer.

Bildergalerie Joseph Blatter

Blatter beat off stiff competition from Sweden's Lennart Johansson (left) for the role of FIFA president

Help from Adidas

At the age of 39, he began his football career off the field. Joao Havelange, FIFA's president at the time, invited Blatter to join the sport's governing body. As director of football development, he was also responsible for the Youth World Cup. He was sponsored by Horst Dassler, founder of Adidas, who it's said provided him with office space in Alsace.

The German manufacturer also apparently pulled the right strings at FIFA when Blatter became secretary general in 1981, taking on the organization's second-highest position. In that role, Blatter sold television rights for the World Cup and managed sponsors.

He also contributed to a number of regulation changes, including the introduction of the three-points rule.

Immune to scandal

In 1998, Blatter made it to the top. After the election to succeed Havelange, Blatter beat off stiff competition from Lennart Johansson of Sweden. Persistent claims were made that Blatter had spent a million US dollars on votes from African delegates, but Blatter disputed these accusations, speaking of "foreign aid."

Since then, the FIFA president has been immune to scandal. His most scandalous affair was with marketing partner ISL, which delivered bribes to FIFA officials, a case proven in court.

Another proven fact was that Blatter, as secretary general, knew of the payments - which he referred to as a "commission." At the end of 2010, FIFA bought themselves out of the million-dollar prosecution and declared Blatter to be not guilty.

At his third re-election in 2011, the boss profited from corruption in his own association. His competitor Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar withdrew his application when it was revealed that he had attempted to bribe Caribbean delegates. According to bin Hammam, Blatter was also well aware of this.

Nevertheless, the FIFA ethics committee cleared his name. "Crisis? What crisis?" FIFA is not in a crisis. We only have problems," said Blatter at the time.

The president was also saved by his ethics committee when Russia and Qatar were respectively awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Unlike FIFA Chief Investigator Michael Garcia, they saw no irregularities in the awarding of the two tournaments.

Loyal supporters

Many have asked themselves how Blatter regularly managed to keep his head from the noose. Blatter knew how power worked and how to keep it. He laughed off critics, quashed internal uprisings, robbed rivals of power and avoided problems - possible only with the help of his loyal supporters in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

For 17 years, Blatter has played by the principle of give and take. "I am the president who has the courage to speak for those who haven't got a voice," he said in an interview. "So really, I am the president of the little ones."

Blatter has been hailed as a football messiah in many countries, not only supporting the regional football associations but also financing them - whether by "foreign aid" or some other way remains to be seen.

"Through football's positive emotions, FIFA has more influence than any country on earth or any religion," Blatter often said. Now, he has finally given up his power.