Keir Radnedge

pres­i­dents set to stay

World Soccer - - Contents - Keir RADNEDGE

Like them or not, Gianni In­fantino and Alek­sander Ce­ferin now rep­re­sent sta­bil­ity in the lead­er­ship of the world game; In­fantino as likely pres­i­dent of FIFA for a fur­ther five years and Ce­ferin as prospec­tive head of UEFA for the same pe­riod.

The lawyers from Switzer­land and Slove­nia are both odds-on to re­tain their posts when they face re-elec­tion next spring. Be­yond that their fu­tures may di­verge, largely due to the na­ture of the con­stituen­cies that they serve.

FIFA re­mains a stormy sea even if the years of cor­rup­tion con­trol have been left be­hind. Com­par­a­tively speak­ing, it is far eas­ier to lead Europe’s gov­ern­ing body, with its tightly or­gan­ised civil ser­vice and com­pet­i­tive struc­ture. UEFA has its in­ter­nal pol­i­tics, but they are nowhere near as com­plex as the spi­der’s web In­fantino sits atop.

In­fantino had been UEFA gen­er­alsec­re­tary when a chapter of ac­ci­dents handed him the win­ning vote at FIFA Con­gress in 2016 af­ter the bans in­flicted on pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter and likely suc­ces­sor Michel Pla­tini for their $2mil­lion sleight-of-hand in the FIFA ac­counts. Pla­tini’s de­fen­es­tra­tion also pro­vided the power vac­uum in UEFA which al­lowed the east­ern and Nordic blocks to pro­pel Ce­ferin to com­mand.

Ini­tially it was thought by many that Ce­ferin was an In­fantino ally. As time has passed, how­ever, Ce­ferin has emerged as his own man, and his in­creas­ing readi­ness to stand up for Europe has quashed that old the­ory.

The two men are also very dif­fer­ent in style and pro­ce­dure.

In­fantino had been in of­fice just a mat­ter of min­utes when he scrapped the con­cept of a fig­ure­head pres­i­dent which had been set up by com­pli­ance chair­man Domenico Scala. He wanted to be an up­front pres­i­dent like Blat­ter and wasted no time in clear­ing out all the mid­dle and top-level man­age­ment of the pre­vi­ous regime.

The most re­cent man out of the door has been Marco Vil­liger, whose de­par­ture was per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant. Le­gal di­rec­tor and then joint-deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral along­side for­mer Croa­tia mid­fielder Zvon­imir Boban, his sudden exit af­ter 16 years at FIFA sug­gests In­fantino is con­fi­dent the worst of the FIFAGate years are in the past.

Vil­liger’s un­ri­valled un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of the scan­dalscarred years is no longer re­quired to pro­tect the world gov­ern­ing body. With­out doubt his sudden fall from FIFA grace has been cush­ioned by the mil­lion­aire terms of a con­fi­den­tial­ity-pro­tected sev­er­ance deal.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 2000 from the Univer­sity of Zurich, Vil­liger joined FIFA two years later and be­came head of dis­ci­plinary mat­ters un­til af­ter the 2006 World Cup in Ger­many. The fol­low­ing year he be­came di­rec­tor of the le­gal divi­sion. And in that role he de­cided to bring in top lawyers Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sul­li­van ahead of the FIFAGate earth­quake launched by the Swiss and US au­thor­i­ties in May 2015.

Blat­ter, re­mark­ably, has de­nied all prior knowl­edge of the ap­point­ment of Quinn Emanuel. He also be­lieves Vil­liger and the then sec­re­tary-gen­eral Jerome Val­cke knew in ad­vance about the po­lice raid on Zurich’s Baur au Lac ho­tel when seven se­nior foot­ball ex­ec­u­tives were de­tained on the eve of FIFA Con­gress

In­fantino is so con­fi­dent that he an­nounced his in­ten­tion to seek re-elec­tion at Con­gress in Moscow on the eve of the World Cup

on cor­rup­tion charges. Vil­liger has kept his own si­lence. As ever, he has re­mained con­tent to leave the me­dia grand­stand­ing to the pres­i­dents and sec­re­tary-gen­er­als. His stance is not ex­pected to change.

In­fantino, hav­ing al­ready raided UEFA for a num­ber of his for­mer trusties, is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing the re­place­ment of Vil­liger with Alas­dair Bell, who has been di­rec­tor of le­gal af­fairs at Nyon since 2010.

In­fantino’s con­fi­dence is such at present that he an­nounced his in­ten­tion to seek re-elec­tion at Con­gress in Moscow on the eve of the World Cup fi­nals. He was, in ef­fect, dar­ing any­one to stand against him.

At one time that might have been Asian pres­i­dent Sheikh Sal­man bin Ibrahim Al Khal­ifa, but he has his own prob­lems with Saudi Ara­bia’s Adel Ez­zat con­test­ing the AFC’s top job.

This de­vel­op­ment is in­trigu­ing as Saudi fund­ing is thought to be cru­cial to the mys­te­ri­ous $25bil­lion of­fer to FIFA to re­struc­ture the Club World Cup and cre­ate a Global Na­tions League.

That would raise spec­u­la­tion about In­fantino’s sym­pa­thies were it not for the at­tempt by the Saudi-based Be­outQ pi­rate chan­nel to un­der­mine Qatar’s BeIN Sports, which has bought TV rights across the Gulf and north Africa to the World Cup, Cham­pi­ons League, Premier League and Ligue 1 among oth­ers.

To be clear, the Be­outQ cam­paign threat­ens not merely BeIN but the en­tire pro­tec­tive struc­ture of TV sports rights. FIFA can­not af­ford to stand idly by, what­ever the diplo­matic del­i­cacy of In­fantino’s po­lit­i­cal sym­pa­thies.

And this is where Ce­ferin may come into the pic­ture.

Ce­ferin, in 2016, was the elec­tive pref­er­ence of the medium and small fed­er­a­tions who com­prise a ma­jor­ity within UEFA. He has al­ready had ex­pres­sions of re-elec­tion sup­port from sev­eral of the ma­jor FAs, in­clud­ing Eng­land – who will need him on­side if, as ex­pected, a UK co-host­ing pur­suit for the 2030 World Cup is forth­com­ing to ri­val the bid from Uruguay, Paraguay and Ar­gentina.

This will place Ce­ferin in an even more im­por­tant role within FIFA, in which he is al­ready a vice-pres­i­dent. If he can step in where In­fantino may fear to tread over the pi­rate TV is­sue then his own sta­tus will soar.

When Ce­ferin be­came pres­i­dent of UEFA he thought, by his own ad­mis­sion, that it was a part-time job. He soon learned dif­fer­ently.

In­fantino is 48, while Ce­ferin is 50. These two can be around for a long time to come. Or, at least, for the next five years. And then what?

Sta­bil­ity...Gianni In­fantino (left) and Alek­sander Ce­ferin

Gone...Marco Vil­liger

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