Andrew Warshaw: FIFA presidency race to start

Sepp Blatter will stand down as head of FIFA, but the Swiss has no obvious successor. Picture: AFP/Getty
Sepp Blatter will stand down as head of FIFA, but the Swiss has no obvious successor. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Race to succeed Blatter set to move up a gear as election date is chosen, writes Andrew Warshaw

THE starting gun in the race to become the symbolic first head of Fifa in the post-Sepp Blatter era will be fired tomorrow when a date is chosen for the election to replace the embattled Swiss veteran after 17 turbulent years in charge.

That there are no obvious heavyweight contenders makes it more intriguing

Needing time for candidates to come forward and prepare their campaigns, Fifa have already announced that the extraordinary congress to choose a new president won’t take place until some time between December and March but by tomorrow evening we should at least know the timing.

Attention will then turn to who takes over the reins at arguably the most critical time in Fifa’s history. Blatter, despite various hints and innuendos, won’t be changing his mind yet again at the age of 79. This time, with FIFA’s main sponsors making anxious noises about the present predicament, he has no intention of performing another U-turn. The stakes are simply too high.

What he does want to do is leave with his head held high and save his battered reputation from being totally shredded. That means taking the credit for a series of reforms Fifa are expected to put in place sooner rather than later. More of that shortly...

In terms of Blatter’s successor, that there are no obvious heavyweight contenders makes it all the more intriguing. On paper, the bookies’ favourite is probably Michel Platini but Uefa’s French president has a serious dilemma on his hands. Whilst he was not willing to take on Blatter in May, knowing he would have suffered a humiliating defeat, the fact that his mentor-turned-foe will soon no longer be around must be giving him serious food for thought.

Platini has long been considered a likely candidate for the top job at some point. When Blatter was re-elected for yet another four-year term, many took the view Platini might take over in 2019. But Blatter’s unexpected, though correct, decision to step down in the wake of the simultaneous US and Swiss corruption investigations that have already snared several of his high-ranking colleagues has, in a way, caused more problems than it solves for Platini. Does he now bring his FIFA ambitions forward?

Blatter, who has made no secret of his disdain for UEFA, will surely do everything in his power during his final few months in charge to lobby against Platini, arguably the one contender he would be least likely to endorse.

Everyone knows there is no love lost between the pair. Platini’s admission that he personally pleaded with Blatter to throw in the towel before his recent re-election as a result of the corruption scandal that hit FIFA like a 10-ton truck a few days earlier merely cemented their strained professional relationship, notwithstanding Platini’s insistence that he likes Blatter as a person.

Platini has other issues to contend with. Would he really be happy quitting UEFA a little over a year before his crowning moment, the 2016 Euros, are staged in his homeland with the expanded format he was so keen to bring about?

No one (apart, perhaps, from his closest advisers) knows his current mindset. The fact that he openly admitted he voted for Qatar to stage the 2022 World Cup is another important factor to take into consideration, given the ongoing Swiss probe into the entire bid process.

As for Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, Blatter’s sole adversary last time, since losing the ballot the Jordanian royal has gone as quiet as the proverbial mouse. No post-election comments on how he assessed gaining 73 of the 209 votes. No media briefings, on or off the record. He had – and still has – serious reform ideas. Yet he may well feel that having given it his best shot, he is better off out of the whole picture.

Don’t forget that to get to 73 votes, Prince Ali was heavily reliant on the backing of Platini and a large chunk of UEFA. Without that (assuming UEFA puts up its own candidate with Blatter consigned to history), it is hard to see where Prince Ali’s support would come from.

Which leads us on to Luis Figo and Michael van Praag, the two Europeans who pulled out last time. Neither, in all honesty, could be expected to win. Figo doesn’t have enough political nous while van Praag, for all his gravitas, doesn’t command enough clout outside Europe.

Jeffrey Webb, not so long ago the voice of morality, fooled us all and was last week extradited in shame to the United States from Switzerland to face serious fraud charges, having wrecked his hopes and his reputation.

Musa Bility, the president of the Liberian FA, reportedly wants to stand but comes from a little-known African country, while former Brazil international Zico is in the same camp as Figo experience-wise. As for Issa Hayatou, FIFA’s senior vice-president and the leader of African football, the Cameroon powerbroker is understood to be in very poor health.

Get the picture?

The name of Asia’s most influential sports administrator, Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, is one that has been doing the rounds. A strong Blatter ally, Sheikh Ahmad is president of the Association of National Olympic Committees and has just joined FIFA’s executive committee. But for all his authority, he surely hasn’t been at the top table of FIFA long enough to become its president.

The fact is that none of the prospective candidates ticks every box, raising concerns that whoever ultimately takes the job could lack the strength and global respect needed to inherit an organisation requiring root and branch change.

Speaking of which, as well as choosing the election date, tomorrow’s executive committee session, the first since May’s dramatic events that permeated FIFA’s senior ranks, has plenty else on the agenda including plans for reform, so long talked about but never effectively implemented.

Term limits for senior FIFA employees (too late for Blatter sadly), disclosure of salaries and integrity checks are all up for possible discussion while FIFA wants the voting for future World Cup hosts – to be chosen by the full membership rather than the elite all-powerful executive committee – to be an open rather than secret ballot.

The mood, at long last, is for a major shake-up. But it won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight.