Inside Sepp Blatter’s sanctuary: Hometown of Visp

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Nestled in the Swiss mountains, the little town of Visp is far from the hustle and bustle of Zurich and the home of FIFA.

And it's the sanctuary of FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

The 79-year-old was born in nearby Ulrichen, but grew up in Visp and is loved by just about every one of its 7,345 inhabitants.

"I saw him once," said a young boy who was kicking a ball around inside the new stadium of FC Visp, the team Blatter once played for. "In the square. He was very friendly."

Blatter, who has become embroiled in the FIFA corruption scandal and announced that he would resign as president, often returns to the picture-postcard town - a two-hour train ride from Zurich.

He has a modest apartment and his daughter and son-in-law own a restaurant called the Bistro Napoleon.

Still very much involved with football in the region, Blatter attends a tournament held in his honor in Ulrichen every year.

Last year, as part of tiny FC Visp's centenary celebrations, a match was organized involving a FIFA XI featuring Brazil great Ronaldo, causing a stir when he arrived in a helicopter to be greeted by a beaming Blatter.

"Everyone loves him here," Visp Mayor Niklaus Furger, a distant cousin of Blatter, told The Associated Press outside Town Hall. "He's one of us. He's just a normal person. He comes here to the market on Fridays and we drink wine. It's his home. Here he is just Sepp.

"He has done a lot for FIFA but here he remains one of us. When he comes home to Visp he's one of us and that's why we like him very much. He has taken the name of Visp into the world."

So proud are they of their famous son that the local primary school bears his name, as does the Sepp Blatter Foundation, which he set up and which is presided over by Furger.

It is a far cry from the public perception of the man who has run FIFA for 17 years.

Tuesday's resignation announcement came amid FIFA's worst crisis in its 111-year history, after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 people on corruption charges related to soccer.

Seven of them were arrested in Zurich ahead of the FIFA congress and are awaiting extradition.

U.S. authorities are also looking specifically at Blatter, but he has not been formally charged.

In a separate investigation, Swiss authorities are looking into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process.

Furger said he spent time with Blatter in Zurich last week but hasn't spoken to him since he decided to step down.

"There are a lot of people at FIFA and he can't know about what everyone is doing," Furger said. "I don't think he has anything to be worried about, he is an honest man.

Blatter did the best he could but he is just one person and FIFA is a huge organization.

"People have tried to point the finger at him, to say bad things. But nothing has ever been proved. Because there is nothing to prove."

The mayor's older sister, Annagreth Furger, also knows Blatter well.

"I went to the girls' section there and he went to the boys' section the other side," she said, pointing at the Sepp Blatter school. "One year he won the boys' race and I won the girls'."

Annagreth Furger said Blatter is thought of as a genius in the town.

"He has done so much for Visp," she said. "No one has a person like him, no village has a person like him. We are proud to have someone like him.

No one here has a bad word to say about him, we are a very close-knit community and he is one of us."

Few in town speak badly of him. A handful are embarrassed, and hard to find.

Those who do critique the most powerful man in soccer do so in whispers.