Julio Grondona, who ruled over Argentina’s soccer association for 35 years and wielded influence far beyond it as one of the most powerful figures in FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, died on Wednesday in Buenos Aires. He was 82.
The cause was complications of an aortic aneurysm, said Ernesto Cherquis Bialo, a spokesman for the Argentine Football Association.
At his death Mr. Grondona was FIFA’s senior vice president, a position considered second only to the president, currently Sepp Blatter.
Known in Argentina as Don Julio, Mr. Grondona became president of the Argentine Football Association in 1979, when the country was in the throes of the so-called Dirty War, in which the military dictatorship hunted down suspected opponents, thousands of whom were never seen again.
After democracy was re-established in 1983, Mr. Grondona consolidated and expanded his power through a succession of civilian governments, economic crises and corruption scandals surrounding FIFA, from which he emerged relatively unscathed.
Often photographed wearing a gold pinkie ring inscribed with the words “todo pasa,” or everything passes, Mr. Grondona negotiated an array of lucrative sponsorship and media deals. He was feared by many in Argentina.
“The power isn’t mine,” he once said. “They give it to me. The others feel that I have power, and that’s what counts.”
Julio Humberto Grondona, the eldest of six children, was born on Sept. 18, 1931, in the port city of Avellaneda, near Buenos Aires. He abandoned engineering studies in his early 20s to take over his family’s hardware store, Lombardi y Grondona, after his father died. The business made him wealthy.
In 1957, he and his brother Héctor founded the soccer club Arsenal, whose stadium, in Avellaneda, was named in Mr. Grondona’s honor. He joined FIFA’s executive committee in 1988.
Mr. Grondona could be combative if not belligerent. In 2003 he was denounced as anti-Semitic after he questioned the place of Jews in top soccer leagues, saying they did not work hard enough. “I do not believe a Jew can ever be a referee at this level,” he said.
He later apologized for the remark.
He also expressed contrition for describing the English as “liars” and “pirates” in 2011 as England prepared a bid to host the World Cup in 2018. (Russia was awarded the event.) He was a vocal supporter of Argentina’s territorial claim on the Falkland Islands, called the Malvinas Islands by Argentines — a dispute with Britain that led to the country’s defeat in the Falklands War in 1982.
Mr. Grondona told reporters in 2011 that he had bluntly laid out his views to English soccer officials. “I said: ‘Let us be brief. If you give back the Malvinas Islands, which belong to us, you will get my vote,’ ” he said. “They then became sad and left.”
In his own country, Mr. Grondona was often criticized for his ironhanded manner but also hailed for his contributions to Argentine soccer. Among other things, he had a hand in the national team’s run to its second World Cup title, in 1986, when it was led by the superstar Diego Maradona, and oversaw the construction of a world-class soccer training complex near Buenos Aires.
Still, he hewed to controversy through the most recent World Cup, which concluded in Brazil in July with Germany’s defeat of Argentina in the final.
Known for his public feuds with Maradona, who once coached Argentina’s national team, Mr. Grondona said that Argentina was able to squeak out a 1-0 victory over Iran in a World Cup match in June only after Maradona had left the stands. Mr. Grondona called him a “jinx.” Maradona responded with a crude hand gesture that was shown on television.
Maradona took to Facebook this week to comment on Mr. Grondona’s death, expressing his condolences.
Mr. Grondona’s wife, Nélida Pariani, died in 2012. He is survived by three children, Liliana, Julio and Humberto.
In June, just before the World Cup began, Mr. Grondona spoke of his lasting bond with soccer, telling the German news service DPA, “When I leave FIFA, it will be to go to the cemetery.”