He can certainly talk a good game – in three languages in fact. And if prizes were given for glossy manifestos he would already have the keys to Sepp Blatter’s private office in Zurich.
Yet despite a surprisingly impressive performance by Luis Figo at Wembley in detailing his vision for the future of football, little has changed in terms of the general perception that no matter what any of the contenders do to try and unseat him, the present incumbent will retain his crown yet again at the FIFA presidential election on May 29.
Just like Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan and Holland’s Michael van Praag, the other two contenders, Figo gave us bags of oratory about the need for fresh blood at the top, about the urgency to rebuild trust after years of scandal and about how, as the days go by, he is more and more confident of success.
The difference, to be fair to the Portuguese icon, is that he was the first to put his cards on the table and lay down detailed plans for change. Whether what he proposes will actually work – such as expanding the World Cup, possibly to 48 teams – is questionable. But while still a rank outsider, his stock has risen considerably now that he has stolen a march on his rivals and we can see the concrete ideas he has for doing something about FIFA’s tarnished image.
But has it risen high enough? The creation of a FIFA Football Council to monitor the activities of the president and his executive committee said a lot about his plans to ensure better governance. Likewise a proposal to merge the existing ethics and disciplinary committees to create a new governance, audit and compliance body.
And certainly Figo’s pledge to redistribute at least half of FIFA’s funds equally around the world to develop football at the grass roots level and give back two-thirds of FIFA’s cash reserves to the national federations were canny buttons to press.
He would also like to radically alter representation on FIFA’s executive to make it more democratic. Under this, each confederation would have one seat per ten member associations, with an additional seat for those that have won the World Cup, with a limit of eight seats per confederation.
It’s clearly been well worked through yet how much effect will it all have ultimately? Figo admitted, after all, that the African vote, solidly behind Blatter, “will be one of the obstacles to overcome”. Make that nigh on impossible.
Drawing on his life story – how he grew up in the working-class streets of Lisbon before his life changed “through the power of football” – was an obvious card to play to illustrate his humility. But one doubts it will generate enough interest when it comes to trying to persuade majority of FIFA’s member associations to vote for him.
And all the while, despite his assertion that he is bidding independently, the feeling is still that his campaign is somehow being part-orchestrated by Uefa, notwithstanding his pledge that if the World Cup is expanded, none of the new countries would come from Europe.
Media organisations have pointed to the fact that both Figo’s and Prince Ali’s campaigns are being aided by one and the same public relations company.
That breaks no rules but it is certainly unusual given that they are supposed to be in opposition and only serves to fuel the belief that UEFA are somehow partly involved behind the scenes.
Don’t forget all Figo’s nominations came from European federations. So did most of Prince Ali’s. It is common knowledge too that the company working with them also advises UEFA on a range of strategic communications matters.
UEFA has steadfastly declined to say which candidate they are backing. Their view is strictly ABB: Anyone But Blatter. What they want is change at the helm. So they presumably feel that if rivals to Blatter share a common goal, what’s the problem with them being advised by the same spin doctors?
It is important also to note that under the regulations, Blatter, if he feels he needs one, will have to create his own group of advisers. He would not be able to rely on FIFA’s in-house team who would breach election rules if they promote his bid for a fifth term.
One thing is for sure, however. Any advisers employed by the veteran Swiss will not be the same ones assisting the opposite camp. Lots of strange things happen in football politics but that would be just about the strangest of them all.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at email@example.com