Valcke's straight talk stretches FIFA diplomacy

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm •  Published: January 9, 2014

GENEVA (AP) — At FIFA, only one view often seems to count in world football, and that belongs to President Sepp Blatter.

When FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke takes center stage for the governing body, his plain speaking can also push the diplomatic limits in football politics.

Valcke made headlines this week telling a radio station in his native France that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar "will not be June and July."

When he suggested "it will be played between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15 at the latest," Valcke was repeating his boss Blatter's oft-stated view on the best months to play in the desert nation.

Yet it appeared to pre-judge a barely begun consultation Valcke is overseeing on behalf of FIFA's elected executive committee.

Not for the first time, FIFA's top administrator provoked ruling board members — including vice presidents Michel Platini and Jim Boyce in this case — to complain he had overstepped his authority.

Brazil's government would agree, after Valcke infuriated political leaders in the 2014 World Cup host nation by speaking the inconvenient truth that preparations were falling behind schedule.

"You have to push yourself, kick your (backside)," was the former television journalist's memorable March 2012 message to Brazil delivered to reporters in England.

Organizing a smooth World Cup is the main duty of FIFA's secretary general, yet Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo could barely conceal his government's wish that Valcke be removed from the project for perceived impertinence — even if the view has proven accurate.

Far from being fired or sidelined, the imposingly tall, multi-lingual Valcke is among the few serious candidates to succeed Blatter as FIFA president, perhaps as early as May next year.

That would complete a remarkable comeback story.

In December 2006, Valcke was removed as FIFA's director of marketing after his professional reputation was trashed by a New York judge hearing a suit brought by then-World Cup sponsor MasterCard.

Valcke's conduct in murky negotiations which saw FIFA ignore MasterCard's contractual rights in favor of a deal with rival Visa was described as "the opposite of fair play."

Settling the case in June 2007 cost FIFA more than $90 million, yet within days Valcke was re-hired as secretary general — effectively a promotion to run a successful commercial organization which today has annual revenues topping $1 billion tied to the world's most popular sporting event.

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