Sepp Blatter backs Gianni Infantino as new FIFA president
'It is a relief. I had this burden on me,' ex-FIFA president says
Sepp Blatter feels relief at no longer being FIFA president and warmly praised his successor Gianni Infantino on Saturday.
Blatter seemed happy and at peace in an interview with The Associated Press to reflect on the end of 17 often combative years atop soccer's scandal-hit governing body.
"It is a relief. I had this burden on me," he said, enjoying his first day out of FIFA's employment since 1975. On Wednesday, his FIFA ethics ban for financial conflicts of interest was cut to six years.
"Being suspended or not, I was still the elected president. And now it is finished," Blatter said.
A weight was lifted off him Friday evening the minute he watched on television as Infantino won the election to replace him.
"It was even a welcome day yesterday, 18:01, when they had a new president," he said in the European style for 6:01 p.m. He then paused and exhaled deeply.
When the moment arrived, Blatter said he was with his daughter, Corinne, at her apartment in Zurich. He was drinking a glass of white wine from his native Valais region in Switzerland.
"It was important for FIFA to have a change," said Blatter, who turns 80 in two weeks.
Blatter and the 45-year-old Infantino were born in the neighbouring towns of Visp and Brig.
"He is a young man, he is powerful, he has a lot of energy and I am sure he will do the right job," Blatter said.
Both rose to become FIFA president — just the eighth and ninth in its 112-year history — after being the CEO-like top official at, respectively, FIFA and the European soccer body UEFA.
"It is a repetition of history, that is something," said Blatter, who previously traded barbs with Infantino as part of wider tensions between the two organizations.
"If a majority of the 207 national associations so clearly indicated where they want to go then I can only say, 'Gianni, good luck and do it,"' Blatter said.
He said he knew Infantino would win when the first-round result was announced in the four-candidate vote Friday. It gave Infantino an 88-85 lead over pre-poll favourite Sheikh Salman of Bahrain.
"This means that everybody is going for the winner for the second (round)," said Blatter, who got two of his five FIFA election wins when his opponent conceded after trailing in the first round.
The tactical shifts Blatter predicted helped Infantino pad his margin to a decisive 115-88 lead in the second round.
A longtime master of FIFA politics, Blatter understood on Thursday that the sheikh's front-runner status through much of a four-month campaign might not hold up.
"I was not surprised with the result when I have known the day before that there was no longer the packages by the confederations," he said, referring to potential bloc votes by continent. "Finally, it was the African votes that have made all the difference."