In “United Passions,” the self-funded — and self-serving — FIFA film hagiography that gets an ill-timed release in America this week, the only significant scene featuring the U.S. is a moment in an executive box at the 1994 World Cup final at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.
In the scene, Havelange (played by Sam Neill), is confiding in Blatter (played by Tim Roth) that he wants Blatter, his general secretary, as his successor.
“Sepp, I want you to replace me. When the time comes, you have everything you need to run our family. Plus the quality I really cherish … Listen to me very carefully. When I leave the ship, I don’t want any waves. I want to leave peacefully and with honors. Do you understand me?”
It’s a ham-fisted, fictionalized account, though given that the $27 million that FIFA paid for the film probably came with a modicum of editorial control, it was interesting to note that the language was redolent of one of Blatter’s turns of phrases during last week’s stump speech to FIFA delegates: “Join us to put FIFA back on the right track, where the boat will stop rocking and go placidly into port,” he implored delegates, from a vantage point that now looks suspiciously like the deck of the Titanic.
The less than subtle point made in that sequence of the film was that the Blatter character was aware that there was corruption in FIFA and that Havelange was at the very least tainted by it but that Blatter went along with easing Havelange’s way out, with a FIFA life presidency, for the greater good of the “family.” Perhaps Blatter should have been played by Al Pacino, for all the echoes of the “Godfather” trilogy.
And later, when Havelange was too deeply implicated in the taking of kickbacks during his time in charge, Blatter was able to sadly cut him loose and sail the FIFA ship of state forward, again for the good of the family.
And now it’s Blatter who’s seeking to control the circumstances of his exit, with what remaining power he has. It means that attention will be turning to the likes of Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti power broker and 23-year former International Olympic Committee member, who quietly and efficiently helped deliver most Asian and Middle Eastern votes to Blatter in the recent election — effectively outflanking the campaign of Prince Ali bin Hussein before it even started.