Swiss league pulls Blatter club's license
Even having Sepp Blatter as honorary president couldn't save Neuchatel Xamax from losing its license to continue playing in Switzerland's Super League on Wednesday.
Still, the FIFA president's longtime adviser Walter Gagg is leading an ownership group preparing to save the publicly humiliated club from an apparently inevitable demotion of at least two divisions, and possible bankruptcy under its current Chechen owners.
''It's very sad. We have to accept this verdict and we expected it,'' Gagg told The Associated Press, after Xamax was effectively kicked out of the top tier over its ailing finances and breaking league administration rules.
Xamax owner Bulat Chagaev has five days to appeal to the league and save the club he bought last year and plunged into turmoil.
His prospects look bleak after the league detailed Xamax's failings, including unpaid players' wages and submitting allegedly fake Bank of America documents which ''confirmed'' Chagaev had access to $35 million.
However, Blatter won't be involved in rescuing a club he served as a director before joining FIFA in 1975.
''He is sad in his heart,'' said Gagg, who shares ties to Xamax with his FIFA boss. ''When I started to play football he was a committee member. But he always said that he can't be involved now.''
Gagg's consortium met on Saturday and formed contingency plans for an amateur team next season playing in the regional fourth tier if the club is declared bankrupt.
''We are working day by day to start in June or July with another team and new technical staff,'' said Gagg by telephone from Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, where he is advising the Confederation of African Football on hosting the Cup of Nations.
Swiss Football League officials called a news conference on Wednesday in Zurich to explain why withdrawing Xamax's license was the ''only credible sanction.''
Daniele Moro, president of the disciplinary panel, said the club failed to provide mandatory documents regarding Chagaev's takeover.
The ''suspicion of fraud'' regarding the American bank letters ''had a certain influence on the decision, that's obvious,'' Moro said.
Chagaev, who denies wrongdoing, is at the center of Swiss criminal investigations into suspected fraud.
League lawyer Claudius Schaefer said it never received proof that players had been paid from September to November.
Xamax would be demoted to the third tier if an expected appeal fails, and the fourth tier upon bankruptcy, he said.
Xamax is next scheduled to play on Feb. 4, at home to Lausanne Sport, when matches resume after the winter break. The two-time league winner is fourth in the 10-team division, though was likely to drop to ninth having appealed against points deductions imposed by the league as administrative breaches stacked up.
Heinrich Schifferle, the league's president since November, said he didn't speak to Chagaev while both attended the SFL assembly.
''He didn't greet me, didn't speak to me and left without saying goodbye,'' Schifferle said. ''It's an unpleasant situation that we wanted to avoid.
''But the Neuchatel Xamax directors are truly responsible for this fiasco.''
Schifferle acknowledged the case had damaged Swiss football's reputation, already hit by FC Sion's quixotic legal fights against FIFA, UEFA and Swiss football bodies.
Xamax's troubles could yet save Sion from relegation after it was deducted 36 league points by the Swiss Football Association. Sion is appealing the punishment.
If Xamax is demoted, no Super League team will be relegated this season, Schaefer said.
Xamax did not immediately comment on Wednesday, and the team is in Dubai for a training camp and tournament also involving Zenit St. Petersburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Iraq's Olympic team.
This week, Xamax suggested on its website that the SFL and Gagg were plotting to take control of the club.
Xamax is also being sued by several former employees and is reported to have debts of more than seven million Swiss francs ($7.4 million).