SoftBank named as one of Infantino’s $25bn FIFA buyout backers

By Paul Nicholson

April 12 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino was reluctant to divulge detail of the $25 billion buyout bid for the Club World Cup and a Nations League competition to his own stakeholders at FIFA Council and to European clubs, but it appears the guys with the money have fewer qualms over releasing more of the detail of their proposal.

A report in the Financial Times says that Japan’s SoftBank is part of the consortium that includes investors from China, Saudi Arabia, the US and the United Arab Emirates.

UK-based Centricus is also said to be raising partners in the funding – Centricus founders helped SoftBank raise funds to create its $100 billion Vision Fund.

Under the offer to Infantino the Club World Cup would be played every four years by the top 24 club level teams, starting in 2021 while a new national team competition would take place every two years.

FIFA would have a 51% stake in a joint venture company with the remainder held by the investing organisations who would also guarantee revenues of at least $25 billion.

Insideworldfootball reported Tuesday that the proposal covered the period 2021 to 2033, but that it would be on the table for just 60 days.

What is not clear is where the proposal originated from and whether it is the brainchild of outside investors who see an opportunity to exploit weaknesses in FIFA’s competition and commercial structures, or whether the idea originated from Infantino himself. Certainly Infantino has spent time in all the markets where funding for the proposal is reportedly coming from. Those visits have been independent of any official confederation companions and have raised questions of his motives, previously believed to be purely political.

The proposal in particular draws a very clear battleline with European governing body UEFA who would be most affected by an assault on their Champions League and fledgling Nations League competitions. The Nations League with its tiered structure has the potential to rapidly become the highest level and most competitive national team competition in world football. A potential threat to FIFA’s expanding 48-team World Cup which is starting to look more like a football festival than an elite competition.

Infantino, previously dismissive of the importance of FIFA in terms of competition integrity and revenue generation when he was general secretary of UEFA, has now turned on his former employer with potentially nuclear consequences. European federations, leagues and clubs are furious at the high-handed expectation that they would automatically fall into line with the proposal. The threat to their game, calendar and revenue base is obvious.

To date no consultancy has been held outside FIFA on the proposal with club or confederation stakeholders, except for the dangling of the $25 billion purse. That it was suddenly dropped on them with very little detail has similarly infuriated them.

Infantino faces an election next year and FIFA elections are invariably won by those who promise the national federation electorate the most money. Getting the £25 billion proposal through would give him a giant war chest to promise away. The big question is whether this would be generating new money for football or eating the lunch of the existing confederations and their competitions. At the moment it looks like being the latter, and that would not work in his electoral favour if a credible candidate can be found to stand against him.

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