You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. But if things don’t work out, I’ll willingly scratch someone else’s. Welcome to the world of shifting allegiances and alliances that have become the hallmark of footballing presidential elections.
The current race to take over from Sepp Blatter at FIFA is a case in point.
Cast your mind back just a few weeks. Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, seen very much as the young reformist who would breathe new life into FIFA’s old-guard hierarchy, needed the support of UEFA – run by Michel Platini – to stand even a chance of upsetting Blatter.
Prince Ali was trumpeted by Europe, once its own two candidates pulled out late on, as the best man to haul FIFA out of its current crisis, the man to restore transparency and credibility. The man with integrity and passion.
Forging a partnership with one purpose and one purpose alone – removing Blatter – Platini and Prince Ali both knew that without UEFA’s backing, the Jordanian royal would be royally trounced by the veteran Swiss.
It was always going to be a gamble. In the end, Prince Ali secured 73 votes to Blatter’s 133. Some say that was as many as he could have hoped for, others that he was disappointed not to have done better. The truth maybe lies somewhere in between. We don’t know because Prince Ali hasn’t told us.
What he HAS done, after weeks of relative silence media-wise, is come out fighting now that Platini has declared. Not, as you might expect, in favour of his recent ally, but very much against him.
“Not good for FIFA”, declared prince Ali who believes the organisation needs “new, independent leadership, untainted by the practices of the past”. In other words, not Platini.
Why has he done this? How come the relationship between the pair has broken down and they appear to have fallen out?
Second-guessing prince Ali’s motives, could it be, as some knowledgable insiders suggest, that he was distinctly peeved such a sizeable number of European countries defied the party line and voted for Blatter instead of him in May?
Or just maybe, having lost his FIFA vice-presidency and executive committee place, he is keen to have another crack at the top job and feels badly let down by Platini stealing his thunder, his own presidential ambitions compromised for a second time in a matter of months.
Jim Boyce, Britain’s former FIFA vice-president who stepped down in May, has spent a lot of time with both Platini and Prince Ali and has a healthy respect for the pair of them.
Boyce says he is “totally shocked” by Prince Ali’s latest comments, revealing that at the last World Cup in Brazil, when potential candidates were still weighing up whether to take on Blatter, Prince Ali had urged Platini to stand – and had asked Boyce, invited to the same breakfast table one morning, to try and persuade the UEFA chief to do the same.
Boyce assumed the Frenchman and the Jordanian were still close allies. “I know Platini encouraged people in Europe to vote for Prince Ali last time,” says Boyce, “so I have no idea why this has happened.”
The answer, as so often, is perhaps a mixture of personal pride and vested interests.
And there are several other intriguing twists to the equation as everyone tries to square the circle.
Having categorically refused to back one of their own in Prince Ali last time, will Asia embrace the candidacy of South Korea’s Chung Moon-Joon or, as we are being led to believe, is the Asian Football Confederation firmly behind the 60-year-old UEFA chief? Even though Platini so vehemently wanted Blatter to go? Even though the Asians were so staunchly behind the veteran Swiss last time?
One theory is that a deal is being done for Platini to serve one term and then hand over to Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, Asia’s most influential sports powerbroker who has only just joined the top table at FIFA and who many see as a future president – but not quite yet.
And so it goes on. The elephant in the room, of course, is Blatter himself. Will he just stand idly by and watch the keys to his crown being handed over to Platini – or anyone else for that matter – without having some kind of say in the matter?
Surely not. That’s not Blatter’s style.
Strange as it may sound given his recent opposition to the present incumbent, Platini’s task, in the short term, is to convince as many federations as possible that he is not part of the current discredited regime.
He certainly enters the race as the early favourite. But make no mistake, there will be a whole lot more political and disingenuous back-scratching to come in the next six months.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org