Sepp Blatter has issued a defiant message to his rivals for the FIFA presidency and challenged European governing body UEFA to put up a candidate of its own in the election later this year.
Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term at the helm of world football’s governing body, told CNN in an exclusive interview that he still had unfinished business and would not step aside without a fight.
“I have to say I have not finished my mission because it’s a mission to be in football. We have started in 2011 with the reform process. The reform process is not over. I would like to have these four years to finish it and to show that football is more than a game.”
But FIFA has been mired in controversy since its decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Criticism reached a fever pitch when the man hired to investigate the bidding process for those World Cups, U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia, resigned in protest last year, unhappy that the published summary did not accurately reflect his findings.
Blatter has faced calls to stand down and although UEFA is yet to declare its official position, he clearly believes they are campaigning behind the scenes to depose him.
“They want to get rid of me,” he told CNN.
“All this opposition is coming now it’s unfortunate to say it, it’s coming from Nyon, from UEFA. They don’t have the courage to come in. “So let me go (on) – be respectful! Because in football you learn to win but you also learn to lose. So I’m going now. If I win the better, if I lose ok!”
A UEFA spokesman told CNN Sunday that they had no immediate comment to make over Blatter’s remarks, but added:
“Our President (Michel Platini) will give an update on UEFA’s position regarding the FIFA elections following our ExCo meeting on Monday.”
Three candidates have so far stated their intentions to challenge Blatter; Frenchman Jerome Champagne, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan and former star footballer David Ginola.
All must get the backing of at least five of the 209 member associations of FIFA by a deadline of January 29th to get on the ballot paper for the election on May 29.
Blatter appears unfazed by his likely opponents, with or without another candidate throwing their hat into the ring at this late stage.
“I have been asked by the national associations to be our candidate again because nobody that is strong was in. So I go there,” he said.
He also appears to be relishing the fight ahead, despite closing on his 79th birthday in March.
“I’m now forty years in FIFA. I’ve been the president since 1998.
“You know it is impossible to make everybody happy.
“If I would have only positive press then it would not be good. And I like criticism as long as the criticism is… I would say fair criticism. I like the discussion to go with that. But listen I’ve been there such a long time now and I just want to finish that,” he added.
But perhaps at odds with his other comments, Blatter also called for unity in football, effectively inviting UEFA to put up or shut up.
“Football is a team sport. Let’s go together with the team. I invite the confederation of UEFA and especially the leaders of UEFA that are so bitterly attacking me: join! Join! Football is a unity. And we need this unity in this world.”
And if he cannot find the necessary level of support and extend his tenure as the most powerful in world football, Blatter came up with a surprising choice of new career.
“The day I’m going to retire the first thing I’m going to do is radio. I always said I will do radio.
“Because radio is even more popular than television, than all electronics … I said one day – this was my boy’s wish – to be a radio reporter one day. I don’t know but I’m not so bad.”
The first indication of whether Blatter will be seeking out new horizons may well come on February 7th or 8th, the date he revealed to CNN when FIFA will make public the full list of qualified candidates for the election.
“Anyway, I’m in and I don’t mind. It’s not my first battle for the presidency. I still have the conviction and I believe in myself and I believe in football, ” the Swiss said.