It doesn’t take a Hamlet to discern that there’s something rotten in the state of Fifa. Dissension is rising over widely-perceived corruption and an autocratic ruler. President Sepp Blatter decides what will happen, and even discerns what is true and what isn’t, almost by a principle of vis et voluntas. A de facto statement that force and authority can overcome reality and justice is the very definition of a leader defined by power, with arbitrary decisions justified by the fact that he simply can.
Power-brokers across the football world are however issuing veiled threats of rebellion. Greg Dyke is seeking to muster support to his cause, and in Germany, Dr Reinhard Rauball, president of the German FA, has floated the idea of Uefa withdrawing from the global organisation. Meanwhile, there are whispers of support flowing towards Michel Platini, encouraging him to stand against Blatter in the upcoming presidential elections.
Blatter may feel confident that he can weather such storms, as he has in the past. He should have a care however. The turn of the year, will leave us less than six months from the 800th anniversary of another autocratic leader being brought down by conspiracy and rebellion. On 15th June 1215, under pressure from those he had thought to control, King John placed his seal on the Magna Carta at Runnymede – and the potential similarities don’t end there.
John had lost most of his hereditary lands in France to King Philip II, and raised swingeing tasks against the barons to fund unsuccessful military ventures to win them back. It’s not documented whether there was a baronial equivalent of Greg Dyke who openly declared “We cannot go on like this,” but if there was, it made little difference. John took a very Blatter-esque approach to the matter, and decided to ignore any such blandishments. Eventually, the barons formed an alliance, not necessarily of common mind, but more united by their hatred of John. Much as with the disparate leaders of the individual national associations, predominantly across Europe, positive aims may differ, but the need for Fifa reform is seen as the least bad alternative to the unacceptable status quo.
Under strong pressure, King John eventually relented, and put his seal to the Magna Carta. Despite popular wisdom however, the monarch never saw this as an acceptance of change, but merely a delaying tactic until he could build up his strength again. It was always a doomed deal in his mind; a political device that brought time. His enemies could think what they would. John’s resolve was firm. The Garcia report, and the sandbagging interpretation put on its findings by the quaintly named Ethics Committee of the organisation, and perhaps even Fifa’s approach to the Swiss criminal authorities carry a not dissimilar ring.
Less than six months after the Magna Carta, John had turned the tables on the rebel barons and struck back. He captured Rochester and stood ready to re-establish the power he had never really relented. Is this beginning to sound familiar? Wait, there’s more. The rebel barons, recognising the need for powerful support, sought it from the French. No, not Platini, but you can see the similarity coming. They approached Prince Louis of France, the son of Philip II, with the promise of the crown in exchange for his help in defeating John. And so, we’re pretty well up to date with the links between John and Sepp, but looking at how it panned out with the king of England, may just give us a hint into the future of the emperor of Fifa.
Grasping his chance, Louis sent reinforcements to London to stiffen the resolve of the rebels. John however, perhaps lacking the political nous of Blatter hesitated and failed to grasp the seat of power before it was strengthened. It proved a fatal delay. Less than twelve months after Runnymede, Louis landed an army at Sandwich in Kent. John had been prepared, but an overnight storm had ravaged his navy and his supporters rapidly lost faith and deserted the increasingly isolated monarch. John retreated and as he did so, more of the baronial powers threw in their lot with Louis. It seemed that Platini, er sorry Louis, was to take power.
Fate then took a hand. John contracted dysentery, and died in October 1216. It seemed the door was now open for Louis. Seeing their chance however, the barons decided they no longer needed French help. They took back their offer and instead placed John’s son on the throne as Henry III. The Magna Carta was reissued and the previously rebellious barons flocked to the royal standard, turning the civil war into one of national salvation, eventually defeating Louis who withdrew back to France.
So, what does the story of Magna Carta tell us of the future fate of Fifa and Sepp Blatter? Probably not a lot. Paint John as Blatter however, the barons as the disaffected leaders of Europe’s national associations and Louis as Platini, and perhaps it may just pan out a bit like this…
Platini is persuaded to stand against Blatter, the old despot fails to take the challenge seriously and is fatally wounded in a close election that he wins, but only just. Acolytes and supporters alike desert him as they see their gravy train heading towards the buffers. He withdraws from the post and Platini prepares to be anointed as the new power. With the old man gone however, Europe’s power brokers remember their issues with Platini of the past. Less bad than Blatter, but far from good in their eyes. They resolve on a new candidate. Let’s say someone like David Bernstein, and he gets the job. Platini is sent back to Uefa with his power and prestige hobbled by the whole affair.
Yes, it’s a flight of fancy that in all probability has little likelihood of happening. Or is it? History has a perverse habit of repeating itself and, as they say, you never know. Just remember one thing. If it, or something similar does happen, you heard it heard first. Or, at Runnymede in 1215, that is.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).