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FIFA's Year of Corruption shows that real change will only come when the man at the top leaves

It's the perfect example of a clean-up as farce. In October, FIFA announced a new governance committee to oversee reforms and invited the watchdog group Transparency International to join the effort. But this month TI backed out after FIFA ignored its call for a full investigation into the bidding to host the 2018 and '22 World Cups. "It's all the better that we are not a member," said TI's Sylvia Schenk, who noted that the committee's chairman is being paid by FIFA.

One year after gushers of petrodollars fueled the successful bids of Russia ('18) and Qatar ('22), FIFA president Sepp Blatter has done almost nothing to show he's serious about reform. A new rule that will have all 208 FIFA nations vote on future World Cups might just compound the chances for corruption. By year's end two of FIFA's three most powerful men—Mohammed bin Hammam of Qatar, the president of the Asian Football Federation, and Jack Warner of Trinidad, the head of CONCACAF—were out in the wake of an alleged plot to bribe Caribbean voters in last June's FIFA presidential election. But the impression was that Blatter had cracked down on his former allies only because Bin Hammam was challenging him.

Blatter also promised full public disclosure of a Swiss probe into bribes allegedly taken by FIFA power brokers—including former FIFA president Jo√£o Havelange and Brazilian soccer boss Ricardo Teixeira, who's in charge of World Cup 2014—from a now-bankrupt FIFA marketing partner. But last week Blatter backtracked, and Havelange and Teixeira still held their FIFA positions at week's end. (Like Warner and Bin Hammam they deny wrongdoing.)

Throughout, U.S. Soccer found itself on the wrong side of history. Rather than abstaining, USSF cast its presidential ballot for Blatter in hopes of currying favor for a 2026 World Cup bid. Considering that U.S. networks are paying $1.1 billion for the TV rights to the '18 and '22 Cups, you'd think U.S. Soccer would act as if it had more influence.

As soccer's Year of Corruption comes to a close, it's clear Blatter won't make the changes needed to clean up the FIFA cesspool. Those will have to wait until sponsors exert real pressure or until Blatter is replaced in 2015 by a president with more credibility. Perhaps that will be highly regarded UEFA boss Michel Platini. Then again, Platini voted to put World Cup '22 in the searing summer heat of Qatar.

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A 4--0 demolition of Brazil's Santos in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup on Sunday provided further evidence that Barcelona, led by the magical Lionel Messi, is the best team in the world at the moment. So where does Barça rank among the alltime clubs? SI's Grant Wahl lists his top five.

1 | Real Madrid 1953--60

The Merengues won five straight European Cups from 1956 to '60 and won eternal glory for their stars Alfredo di Stéfano, Raymond Kopa and Ferenc Puskas.

2 | Barcelona 2008--12

If coach Pep Guardiola's team can win its third Champions League title in four seasons next spring, the Blaugrana will jump to No. 1.

3 | Ajax 1965--73

The magisterial Johan Cruyff didn't just lead Ajax to three straight European Cups from 1971 to '73, he also made coach Rinus Michels's Total Football revolution work.

4 | Liverpool 1975--84

The finest team in English history, these Reds, with such stars as Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan, won four European Cups and seven domestic league titles in nine years.

5 | Santos 1961--63

A young Pelé was in his finest form during these years, helping Santos win two South American titles and two world club crowns.




ROGUES' GALLERY Blatter (center) has seen scandal taint onetime cronies (from left) Warner, Havelange, Bin Hammam and Teixeira.