Fifa lifts Club as split hits the fans

In­fantino says it’s in the best in­ter­ests of foot­ball to ex­pand the Club World Cup

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Eric Ber­naudeau

Fifa pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino has said his plans for a new, ex­panded Club World Cup pro­vide the per­fect an­ti­dote to any po­ten­tial threat of a break­away su­per league by elite clubs.

Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments pub­lished in the lat­est series of al­le­ga­tions on the Foot­ball Leaks web­site, a group of top Euro­pean clubs has dis­cussed the idea of es­tab­lish­ing a closed com­pe­ti­tion that could re­place the Uefa Cham­pi­ons League.

The rev­e­la­tions came barely a week af­ter In­fantino agreed at a Fifa coun­cil meet­ing in Rwanda to de­lay any de­ci­sion about his plans for a Club World Cup and a global na­tions league, in­stead set­ting up a task force to study the pro­pos­als.

That was re­port­edly af­ter Uefa del­e­gates threat­ened to walk out in protest, but In­fantino hopes his idea will still win out.

“The Club World Cup is the an­swer to any break­away temp­ta­tion,” In­fantino said in an in­ter­view with AFP and other me­dia in Zurich.

“It will bring much more money for clubs and for the sol­i­dar­ity [de­vel­op­ment] projects.”

In­fantino has been push­ing to re­vamp the Club World Cup by ex­pand­ing it from the cur­rent seven clubs to 24 and hold­ing it ev­ery four years. Twelve of the teams would be Euro­pean.

He has said he has an of­fer of $25-bil­lion over 12 years for that and the na­tions league from pri­vate in­vestors, iden­ti­fied by Foot­ball Leaks as Ja­pan’s Softbank.

De­fend­ing his plans, the 48-yearold said: “These at­tempts to cre­ate a su­per league are there since the 1990s, and this is com­ing ev­ery time, and it’s up to us, the gov­ern­ment of foot­ball, to pro­tect the whole pyra­mid foot­ball sys­tem, which ben­e­fits the clubs and the world foot­ball com­mu­nity.

“If clubs or­gan­ise a break­away su­per league, it will ben­e­fit only the clubs. If Fifa or­gan­ises the Club World Cup, it will ben­e­fit the clubs and the 211 foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tions.”

In­fantino, who also played down the prospect of the World Cup be­ing ex­panded to 48 teams in time for the next tour­na­ment in Qatar in 2022, re­sponded to fur­ther al­le­ga­tions from Foot­ball Leaks by say­ing he had done “noth­ing il­le­gal”.

Sev­eral me­dia, in­clud­ing French in­ves­tiga­tive web­site Me­di­a­part, pub­lished claims that In­fantino, then Uefa’s sec­re­tary gen­eral, “di­rectly ne­go­ti­ated” an agree­ment with Manch­ester City af­ter they were found to have breached Fi­nan­cial Fair Play rules in 2014.

He was al­leged to have by­passed Uefa’s fi­nan­cial con­trol panel by of­fer­ing City a “fine of €20-mil­lion in­stead of €60-mil­lion”. Paris Sain­tGer­main then re­ceived the same treat­ment, Me­di­a­part said.

“The Fi­nan­cial Fair Play rules al­low for the pos­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions and agree­ments. And who is in charge of ne­go­ti­a­tions and dis­cus­sions on the set­tle­ment agree­ments? The ad­min­is­tra­tion,” In­fantino said.

Me­di­a­part also ac­cused In­fantino of not do­ing enough to clean up Fifa’s rep­u­ta­tion since suc­ceed­ing Sepp Blat­ter to take charge of world foot­ball’s scan­dal-tainted gov­ern­ing body in 2016.

“We came here in 2016 and we tried to change a few things. We knew from the be­gin­ning that it would not be easy to try to do things in an en­vi­ron­ment which was very, very rooted in some prac­tices,” said the Swiss-Ital­ian, who also claimed that his back­ground was not to the lik­ing of his crit­ics.

“The fact that you have the son of Ital­ian im­mi­grants be­ing Fifa pres­i­dent is maybe not liked by many, and in ad­di­tion he brings a lady from Africa [Fatma Samoura], a Mus­lim, in charge of the gen­eral sec­re­tar­iat.

“From all these crit­i­cisms, noth­ing was even re­motely con­cern­ing any­thing il­le­gal or con­trary to some reg­u­la­tions, which is quite a big dif­fer­ence com­pared to the past in this or­gan­i­sa­tion,” he added.

Nev­er­the­less, the Foot­ball Leaks rev­e­la­tions also shone a light on In­fantino’s re­la­tion­ship with a Swiss pros­e­cu­tor called Ri­naldo Arnold, which will now be in­ves­ti­gated by au­thor­i­ties in Switzer­land.

He al­legedly in­vited Arnold to at­tend the World Cup in Rus­sia, the 2016 Fifa Congress in Mex­ico and the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in Mi­lan that year.

“I think it’s un­fair this at­tack. Let the jus­tice take its course as they al­ways say. I am very happy and proud to have Ri­naldo as a friend,” said In­fantino, who added that he was “con­fi­dent” of be­ing re-elected Fifa pres­i­dent next year.

Arnold also de­nied any im­pro­pri­ety in an in­ter­view with Canal 9, a re­gional broad­caster in the Swiss can­ton of Wal­lis.

“Gianni In­fantino in­vited me to foot­ball matches as a friend,” he in­sisted. — AFP

Foot­ball unites: Fifa boss Gianni In­fantino (left), Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and France’s Em­manuel Macron. Photo: Kai Pfaf­fen­bach/Reuters

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