London: FIFA president Sepp Blatter has hit back at his critics, saying he was no "ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of football" and arguing the profits his organisation earn are ploughed back into the global game.
The Swiss, who has been pilloried by the media in recent years following a raft of corruption allegations concerning world soccer`s governing body, gave an impassioned self-justifying speech in an address to the Oxford Union, a debating society at the famous university 55 miles north of London.
"Perhaps you think I am a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of the world and out of football," the 77-year-old Blatter told the students on Friday. "The Godfather of the FIFA gravy train, an out of touch, heartless schmoozer.
"There are not many names the media haven`t thrown at me in the last few years and I would be lying to you if it did not hurt... you have to have a heart of stone for it not to hurt.
"You ask yourself, `What have I done? Why has it come to this?. Is FIFA to blame for everything? Are we not just a football organisation working for the good of the game?`," said Blatter.
"People like a scapegoat of course but how could things have become so twisted? As you can see I`m not some overbearing bully who can intimidate my critics with one look and strong-arm governments to my will."
Blatter, who has been president since 1998 and was given another four-year mandate in 2011, did however acknowledge that he and FIFA had to improve their reputation.
"I know I am far from perfect and that we at FIFA must always look to get better at what we do," he said. "We have worked to push through tough reforms to improve the way FIFA operates to make us more accountable and more transparent.
"To build up our defences against wrongdoing and poor business practices. We know we have been let down by the actions of a few in the football world who have tarnished FIFA`s good name and overshadowed all the good work we do.
"We know there is fair criticism that we must listen to and we do. We know we have had some dark days but honestly some of the criticism just astounds me."
Blatter used a colourful analogy to reject the media perception of him and his organisation.
"You may think you know what FIFA is, what it does, what it aspires to be," he added. "A faceless machine printing money at the expense of the beautiful game with me pulling the strings and laughing all the way to the bank.
"There are those who will tell you FIFA is just a conspiracy, a scam, accountable to nobody and too powerful for anyone to resist.
"There are those who will tell you of the supposed sordid secrets that lie deep in our (James) Bond-villain headquarters in the hills above Zurich where we apparently plot to exploit the unfortunate and the weak," said Blatter.
"They would have you believe I sit in my office with a sinister grin, gently stroking the chin of an expensive, white Persian cat as my terrible sidekicks scour the earth to force countries to host the World Cup and to hand over all of their money.
"It is strange how fantasy so easily becomes confused with fact and it feels almost absurd to have to say this. But that is not who we are. Not FIFA. Not me."