In 2009, the journalist David Conn first encountered Chuck Blazer at a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi, where Blazer was overseeing that year’s Club World Cup as a member of Fifa’s executive committee.
Somewhat stunned by the sight of a fantastically obese man in a motorised mobility scooter barking orders at nearly everyone in sight, Conn eventually was given a private audience and Blazer began to regale him with stories of his rise to one of the most powerful men in world football, starting with how he helped create one of the defining fads of the early 1970s.
“I made the smiley faces,” Blazer told Conn, as recounted in his recent book, The Fall of the House of Fifa.
Like a lot of things Blazer said and did, in a life that ended Wednesday at the age of 72, that statement was only about half true. He didn’t actually invent the smiley face badges – a claim he had been making for years – but instead ran a factory in Queens, New York, that manufactured them for the entrepreneurs who came up with the idea.
The agreement ended, however, after he was caught selling the badges out of the factory’s back door to companies that didn’t have a license to sell them.
Such was the complicated life of Chuck Blazer, a man who could undeniably claim to have helped push the United States into the world football spotlight, yet did so via wholly unethical and illegal means, enriching himself and other captains of the sport and directly leading to the downfall of the regime that allowed it all to happen.
“I’ve known Chuck for a lot of years. He did a lot for the sport. Sorry about all the issues regarding Fifa, but he was a good man,” US men’s national team coach Bruce Arena said on Wednesday. “He helped the sport in the United States.”
(L-R) Blazer, Fifa President Joseph Blatter, Franz Beckenbauer (chairman of the Organising Committee for the 2006 World Cup), together in Frankfurt, 2005 (AFP/Getty)
And it took an improbable rise for him to do so. According to Buzzfeed’s Ken Bensinger, Blazer began coaching his son’s youth football team in the mid-1970s – despite not knowing much about the sport. But thanks to his keen administrative skills, he soon moved up the ranks of his son’s league and then the association that ran youth games in all of eastern New York state.
In 1984, he was elected as a vice president to the US Soccer Federation (USSF), which oversees the sport at all levels in America. Somehow, he got…