Despite scandal, Blatter poised to extend reign
It comes as perhaps no surprise that Sepp Blatter, after decades as head of soccer's ruling body, has become immune to scandal.
This one, however, is the biggest in FIFA's 107-year history. Yet the 75-year-old Swiss plans to ride it out, as he has so many before, and win a fourth presidential term Wednesday.
''Crisis? What is a crisis?'' he memorably asked Monday at a FIFA news conference where he attempted to weather the storm of recent bribery allegations. ''We are not in a crisis. We are only in some difficulties.''
But Blatter was clearly rattled. So often in control, displaying an enigmatic smile in the face of the toughest adversity, he lost his cool, scolding reporters not to treat his house ''like a bazaar.''
He moved to leave the platform, hesitated, then returned. Refused to answer, then came back to answer.
It was the exception to the rule that highlights what an operator, schmoozer and diplomat Blatter has been since he started working for FIFA in 1975.
Behind closed doors, he has proved a ferocious force that has kept him at the helm of FIFA for 13 years and extended the boundaries of the World Cup to include South Africa last year and Qatar in 2022.
Blatter has made sure FIFA is overseeing a $4.19 billion budget in a four-year World Cup span and, under him, the world's most popular sport has political clout on par with the International Olympic Committee.
And a decade after the Olympics went through a bribery scandal linked to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, much the same is happening at FIFA.
And this is where his remaining challenge lies. Blatter's meeting with IOC President Jacques Rogge at the opening ceremony of the FIFA congress on Tuesday might have been a reminder of what is at stake: Handle the crisis well and you survive, as the IOC did. Let it get further out of hand, and there is no knowing what will happen.
On the eve of his expected coronation, the bribery scandal threatens to turn Blatter's legacy of a visionary who brought the World Cup for the first time to Africa with the successful staging of the 2010 World Cup into one of a lethargic leader who let the rot of corruption take over the world's premier game.
In his long career, Blatter has often survived adversity, even thrived on it.
He reached soccer's pinnacle with a late entry into the 1998 race for the presidency, much to the displeasure of then-UEFA chief Lennart Johansson.
At the time, the key factor was winning the endorsement of the English Football Association, which he did on his way to a stunning 110-80 victory. Accusations of backstabbing and bribery went flying. It is the same English federation that urged him Tuesday to postpone the election and has said it will not vote for him.
In 17 years leading to his election, Blatter had already learned to deal with shifting alliances, first as FIFA secretary general, then as CEO under Brazil's Joao Havelange.
Even though the ongoing bribery scandal is bigger for FIFA itself, Blatter himself was in more trouble in 2002 when FIFA was on the verge of bankruptcy after the collapse of the ISL marketing company.
There was bitter infighting with secretary general Michel Zen-Ruffinen and several members of the executive committee. Blatter survived. Little wonder he has been called the Teflon man.
And a decade later, FIFA under Blatter made a $631 million profit in the four years leading to the World Cup in South Africa, registering $202 million of that in the last year alone.
How does he survive at the top? Many credit his mastery of every detail of FIFA's rules and machinery learned under his mentor, Havelange.
The Brazilian, an imposing figure, physically exuded power and had a bullying, brooding style. Blatter, a short, chubby man, has added charm and flattery, and proved just as effective in getting what he wants.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.