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Keir RadnedgeSpain’s Angel Maria Villar should be taken seriously as a FIFA candidacy rival to Michel Platini, according to Sepp Blatter.

The current president of world football flagged up the power potential of the former Spain and Bilbao midfielder in an interview with saw questioning turn to issues of the organisation’s long-term future.

Platini, the French president of European federation UEFA, is established as bookies’ favourite to move over from Nyon if Blatter remains faithful to a pledge of retirement in 2015 at the end of his fourth term.

However, some observers have raised doubts about whether Platini would really want the globe-trotting lifestyle which has become synonymous with the role of FIFA president.

The issue erupted in an interview which Blatter gave to the Paris magazine France Football in the wake of the FIFA Gala earlier this month in Zurich; France Football is an awards partner after FIFA swallowed up its European Footballer of the Year trophy in the World Player prize.

Blattter, asked about the presidential succession, said: “I believe Michel Platini could be a very appropriate next president since we started work together in FIFA. He supported me when I was elected for the first time in 1998 and he became my football counsellor.

“After that I believe I can say that I helped him come through the FIFA commissions and attain the presidency of UEFA.

“So it could be logical if you think in terms of ‘football for all, all for football’ but you have to wonder if he is always of such a mind. I have a small doubt . . . He is certainly a good campaigner on his own behalf.”

Blatter, asked if Platini were already campaigning, said: “Yes, yes, very seriously.”

Then, asked whether anyone else had his eye on the presidency, Blatter said: “There is a clear rival out there in Angel Maria Villar. Not officially but he is a candidate.”

Villar is a vice-president of both FIFA and UEFA and, like Platini but unlike Blatter, an opponent of goal-line technology.

Asked last autumn in London about whether he had UEFA presidential ambitions if Platini took over at FIFA, Villar said: “I don’t think too much about the future. I just think about the here and now. The future is created by working hard in the here and now.”

President of the RFEF since 1988, Villar is often underrated by outsiders despite having balanced himself astutely between the different centres of power within the Spanish game represented by Barcelona, by Real Madrid and by the rest.

Within FIFA, he has proved a loyal supporter of Blatter. At FIFA Congress in Zurich in 2011 Villar made a characteristically personal, if rambling, speech in support of the world federation’s controversial and under-fire president.

Born on January 21, 1950, Villar scored three goals in 22 appearances for Spain in the 1970s. He also scored 11 goals in 361 games for Athletic Bilbao, his only senior club, with whom he won the Spanish cup in 1973 and was UEFA runner-up in 1977.

In 1978 he was one of the founders of the Spanish players’ union. Three years later he retired and rose swiftly up the administrative and political ladder. He was elected president of the Vizcaya football association and then of the Spanish federation a mere seven years after having retired from playing.

Villar has been a vice-president of UEFA since 1992 and of FIFA since 2000 and has a more limited command of English than Platini.

Last year this factor may have been in the mind of Blatter when he suggested to the Madrid media that Villar might be more appropriately placed as next president of FIFA rather than of UEFA. He has strong links and support throughout the Spanish language football world including politically influential South America.

By Keir Radnedge

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