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Thursday, May 24, 2007

FIFA President Sepp Blatter: What A Difference A Year Makes

A year ago in Berlin, President Blatter would not follow tradition and present the World Cup to Italy. He refused, and was nowhere to be seen. He gave the privilege to the UEFA President, and was roundly criticized among Italian football circles for the snub. Mr. Blatter travels the world to attend international soccer competitions. Mainly, to honor the victors with a stamp of approval from FIFA, the world governing body. Last night in Athens, a beaming Mr. Blatter was seen directly next to the new UEFA President, Michel Platini, in the presentation ceremony after Milan's victory over Liverpool.

Mr. Blatter was a fierce critic of Italian calcio even after the event. He went to Australia, and claimed that Italy didn't deserve to win their game against them (and by that logic the World Cup itself) due to "simulation (diving) by Fabio Grosso." He and other officials claimed that Marco Materazzi provoked the now famous head butt seen around the world by Zinedine Zidane. The French maestro was awarded the best player honor in Germany despite the incident. It should have gone to Fabio Cannavaro, but that would not have been "politically correct." Materazzi was then suspended for the next two internationals. One of them a rematch against France for Euro 2008 qualification. Paolo Maldini called that suspension (and I paraphrase) "scandalous and the only reason they did it was because he was Italian. If you suspended every player who provoked an opponent, we would have no games to play." Mr. Blatter initiated a public relations campaign for Materazzi and Zidane to travel to South Africa to make peace. Materazzi apologized publicly for his comments after the final, and had volunteered to meet Zidane for a face-to-face meeting. Zidane, a very proud man from the unforgiving streets of Marseille, refuses to discuss the matter any further.

It was very ironic to see the expression on the face of Paolo Maldini last night as he approached Mr. Blatter to collect his fifth winner's medal. It was the type of look that one envisions when an adversary is thoroughly vanquished, and has to beg for mercy from the conquering general. AC Milan was implicated and punished in the Italian soccer scandal last year. Many felt they didn't deserve to be in the Champions League. Apparently, Mr. Blatter recognized that he should be impartial, and honor the new European champions.

As Rino Gattuso chimed in, "What crisis in Italian football? We won the World Cup and now the Champions League in one year." What a difference a year makes...

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