In the first of a regular series of in-depth FIFA.com interviews with Joseph S. Blatter, the head of world football gave his insight on many of the hot topics in the game today. Some of the areas covered in September’s agenda included the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, drawn matches and extra time.
FIFA.com: President Blatter, what are your overall thoughts on the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
Joseph S. Blatter: For a few World Cups now, we’ve been expecting a new champion to emerge. There was an element of hope that the champion would come from a continent that hadn’t produced a winner before. South Korea came very close for Asia in 2002, while this time around, a couple of centimetres were the difference between Ghana making the semi-final and being eliminated. That said, Spain’s success was well-deserved; in my opinion, they along with Argentina produced the highest quality of play. On top of that, they’re both young teams, just like the German side that finished third, and Ghana. That’s a good sign.
You mentioned the level of play. On that point specifically, what did you take away from the tournament?
I really did see some great things. Football has become such a strategic game, with teams moving as a unit. It can be an impressive sight; gone are the days of simple tactics where you attacked then defended. But in the first few matches of the group stage in South Africa, we witnessed some teams that went out to avoid defeat, that were playing for a draw from the outset. This is a topic that I would like to discuss at upcoming Football and Technical Committee meetings. We have to try to find a way to encourage free-flowing football in tournaments like the World Cup, with teams playing to win. We plan to take the opportunity to look at the concept of extra time as well. Often we see teams set themselves up even more defensively in extra time, in an attempt to avoid conceding a goal at all costs. To prevent this, we could go directly to a penalty shoot-out at full time, or reintroduce the golden goal rule. We’ll see what emerges from the Committee meetings.
On a very different note, the Youth Olympic Games took place in August, which enabled football fans to see some teams that don’t often appear at the highest level. What did you learn from the event?
We decided to open up the football event at the Youth Olympic Games to national associations that would not normally have much chance of qualifying for the Olympics or for the final stages of FIFA tournaments. We chose the U-15 category because we’ve already got the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups. I attended four matches in Singapore and saw some good football. I was very impressed by the Singapore boys’ team; they produced some entertaining play. But first and foremost, the competition was about opening up these young players’ horizons. They had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, from different cultures – there was a real spirit of openness and conviviality. This is what football does best.
Pakistan is currently going through a terrible time after the flooding that the nation endured. Do you think that FIFA can help in this type of situation, even if it has nothing to do with football?
As large and powerful an organisation as FIFA is, it is limited to expressing deep sorrow and regret at what is happening in Pakistan. Of course, we will help to replace playing fields, little by little. But it is up to the international community to intervene collectively. We cannot use FIFA funds for humanitarian projects. Via the ‘Football for Hope’ movement, the goal of which is to unite, support, advise and strengthen existing social development programmes, we are already working towards positive social, cultural and educational change.
President Blatter, what is it that keeps you so motivated after 35 years at FIFA?
When I arrived at FIFA, I was given a task that consisted of putting in place a development programme and of selling the idea to national associations and sponsors. I got down to the job, and in doing so I quite quickly became aware of the fact that football is much more than a game. I then realised that, personally speaking, I had a mission to fulfil. And that mission isn’t finished yet.