King of the soccer world on Friday, Sepp Blatter took the stage on Tuesday as its jester.
Finally, the joke was on him. His last gasp show of defiance had failed. A weekend of posturing did nothing to help his cause. All of the strong words in the world couldn't drown out an FBI investigation creeping ever closer.
FIFA's longtime president, its anachronistic husk of a leader, finally made a decision for the betterment of soccer. He resigned his post pending results of another election. The head of the snake has now been severed.
It was truly a stunning reversal for a man elected Friday to a fifth consecutive term as president of the global game's governing body. That Blatter's ultimate downfall, even in the face of numerous damning indictments for underlings and rampant accusations of corruption, was not a foregone conclusion speaks to level of lunacy at FIFA. It also speaks to the staying power of a man who ruled like a benevolent dictator, with little practical benevolence to show for it.
So what changed? What changed in the course of three days to force a man so intent on fixing the problems he created to tuck his tail between his legs and bolt?
Maybe Blatter really had a sincere change of heart. Or perhaps it was a New York Times report released Tuesday morning that tied questionable payments to Blatter's right-hand man, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke. Perhaps one of the 14 arrested last week was ready to flip. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Looking at it objectively, some of Blatter's accomplishments (I use the term loosely) are admirable. He often stated his intention to make the World Cup a truly global affair. Under his watch, the globe's premier competition has taken place in Asia, Europe and, for the first time, in Africa. It will head to the Middle East in seven years.
But that desire to globalize at any cost (or, rather, for any sum of money such host countries were willing to fork over) became the major catalyst for his unceremonious resignation. And let's not lose sight of the fact that Blatter's removal does not halt the deaths of thousands of migrant workers building stadiums in Qatar. It does not root out the bribery, corruption, kickbacks, winks, nods, secret handshakes, and questionable quid-pro-quos that have become commonplace throughout the governing body.
Last week, I wrote that as long as Blatter remained in charge, no truly meaningful change could be accomplished. The FBI can hand out as many indictments as it wants. The Swiss police could continue to raid five-star hotels and politely arrest executives. As long as the man pulling the strings was still employed, the marionette would continue its cruel, crooked dance.
The witch is dead, but Dorothy has a lot of cleaning up to do. Soccer has emptied itself of Blatter and his blustering, his condescension and his ignorance. Now it has to find a way to undo the damage he's done.