The footballing summer seemed too good to be true. After a refreshingly expansive and entertaining major international tournament in Euro 2008 and, by its usually insufferably hyperbolic standards, a reasonably quiet rumour mill, something had to give. Step forward, Sepp Blatter.
In the latest in a long line of idiotic soundbites, Blatter has spoken about one of the transfer sagas churned out by the aforementioned mill. Referring to the tiresome tug of war for Cristiano Ronaldo between Manchester United and Real Madrid, the FIFA president claimed, "There's too much modern slavery, in transferring players or buying players. We are trying now to intervene in such cases.'' In Blatter's case, this is one intervention too far.
With a string of foolish quotes to his name, the Swiss is as much a subject of light-hearted ridicule as real criticism, but in this instance, his comments have pushed the boundaries of taste. Even those who work closely with Blatter have been quick to condemn his views, such as Uefa's communications director, William Gaillard,"It would be useful to remind people that slaves in all of the slavery systems never earned a wage." The incongruity of mentioning slavery's iniquity in the same breath as poor old, £100,000+ a week Ronaldo, is staggering.
Gaillard highlights the lack of sensitivity in Blatter's brash proclamations. For a man of such stature, it is irresponsible, if not plain stupid, to throw about terms that bear such painful significance with seemingly contemptuous disregard.
Not only is the 'slavery' quote grossly inappropriate, it is entirely missing the point that, in fact, it is players who hold the power in today's market. The Andy Webster ruling (where a player can buy out his contract in order to leave) has rendered contracts almost meaningless. Even if such a move proves too costly for a player, an agent's close proximity to endless media sources makes the now customary 'come-and-get-me-plea' an immediate, and effective, way of attracting suitors.
Blatter is a man whose ridiculous outbursts have often been ignored as the silly ramblings of a political eccentric. Quota plans contradictory to EU constitutional laws and a supposedly corrupt reinstatement were swiftly brushed under the carpet. Most infamous, though, was his view that women should "wear tighter shorts" to promote the female game, though this was largely laughed off, much to the chagrin of the undermined players.
Such easy forgiveness is worryingly similar to the slack that has been afforded to Boris Johnson (as Charlie Brooker points out http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/14/charliebrooker.boris). Blatter's handling of world football's public relations are as sound as Johnson's relationship with Liverpudlians, yet he has somehow been appointed for a third term at FIFA's helm.
Reservations about the London Mayor should be held in the same way about the out-of-touch football chief. If Blatter chooses to lament the game's state in his uniquely ill-informed manner, it should be his own position and running of the sport that should come under serious consideration.