High-profile London media events over the past year have not brought fortune for either Prince Ali of Jordan or Luis Figo in their pursuits of the FIFA presidency; Gianni Infantino is trusting in third time lucky.
The 45-year-old general secretary of European federation UEFA took over a conference suite at Wembley to clarify his proposals for the world governing body if he wins the election to succeed disgraced and banned Sepp Blatter in Zurich on February 26.
To beat off the challenge of four other candidates Infantino has to provide not only a credible manifesto which can appeal to more than half the football world but also counter a number of major concerns about his own status.
These include developing-world resentment toward all-powerful Europe at having toppled Blatter plus suspicions generated by his close working relationship over the past decade with now-banned Michel Platini.
Over the past weeks Infantino has had to embark on a steep learning curve out beyond the safety and security of Europe in his evolution from administrator to diplomat. This has also involved working on proposals beyond bland platitudes such as “reform . . . good governance . . . transparency . . . credibility” etc.
Out-of-work managers such as Jose Mourinho and Fabio Capello and retired heroes Figo and Roberto Carlos had time on their hands to turn out at Wembley to endorse Infantino’s bid for power.
While they brought some media-distracting star quality they were empty-handed in terms of the votes Infantino knows he has attracted in Europe and believes (extremely cautiously, one assumes) he has attracted in the Americas.
The three headline issues which Infantino was able to generate at Wembley concerned the appointment – should he win the presidency – of a non-European as secretary-general for the first time in FIFA’s history, an 11-point action plan for his first 90 days in office and a ‘surprise’ to be unveiled in his 15-minute discourse to FIFA Congress shortly before the vote itself.
Infantino is aware that his promise of expanded development largesse to FIFA’s minnow members has already rattled Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the Asian confederation president who is his most dangerous rival. Maintaining that momentum over the next three weeks will be a major test of Infantino’s campaign strategy.
FIFA is currently operating without a formal secretary-general after the suspension and sacking of Jerome Valcke who is next in the ethics committee queue now Blatter and Platini have been dealt with (albeit they deny wrongdoing and are appealing).
Infantino said: “What we want to do is open the doors of FIFA administration. I am convinced the general secretary of FIFA should not be European. Why not an African? “There are many capable people in Africa, we have to open the doors of FIFA to men and women from all over the world.”
Hicham El Amrani, general secretary of the African confederation, is one possible candidate since no-one from the Americas would be trusted, given the culture of corruption unveiled by the United States Department of Justice in its FIFAGate investigation into a $200m corruption racket at the highest levels.
The action plan itself includes consultations with key commercial partners to bring trust back to the market as well as relaunching the aborted process to plan for the 2026 FIFA World Cup finals and put football back at the centre of the FIFA agenda.
“For too long the scandal and corruption that has engulfed FIFA has taken centre-stage,” said the Swiss lawer. “I believe my proposals will help put football back in the spotlight where it belongs. I will continue to work tirelessly to restore trust in FIFA and create a trustworthy governing body that governs, grows and nurtures the game in a responsible and accountable way.
“The image and reputation of FIFA is not very high and it has to rise again.”
Responding to Sheikh Salman’s criticism of his development cash plan, Infantino offered a reassurance to a football world far beyond his Wembley audience by insisting: “There is no problem in distributing 1.2 billion US dollars when revenue is five billion.”
That might yet go down better than all the rest.
Infantino’s 90-day 11-point action plan:
1, Implement good governance and compliance reforms
2, Appoint a new FIFA secretary-general
3, Plan strategy meetings with member associations to take place in autumn 2016
4, Consult key commercial partners to bring trust back to the market
5, Set up new football development regulations
6, Place a renewed focus on tailor-made national and regional projects to assist associations
7, Launch the process for the 2026 FIFA World Cup
8, Inaugurate a new and dynamic exchange and internship programme to increase cooperation at all levels
9, Introduce concrete reforms of the transfer system
10 Create a Legends Team to promote the social impact of football globally; and
11 . . . to be unveiled at FIFA Congress on February 26.
** The five candidates for the FIFA presidency are: Prince Ali bin Al Hussein (Jordan), Jerome Champagne (France), Gianni Infantino (Switzerland, UEFA general secretary), Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa (Bahrain, AFC president) and Tokyo Sexwale (South Africa).