By Andrew Warshaw
December 19 – Disgraced former FIFA and UEFA powerbroker Ángel María Villar has stoked up fears of his native Spain being barred from the World Cup as he tries to cling on to his role as head of his national federation (RFEF).
Villar, who once strode the corridors of power but whose reputation has been shattered after being suspended from duty over corruption allegations, has accused the Spanish government of meddling in the federation’s affairs in a clear attempt to influence FIFA’s thinking.
On Monday, a widely reported FIFA statement said a letter had been sent to the RFEF expressing “concern with the situation the federation is in and reminding it that… all member associations should ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties”.
Villar was suspended by the Spanish authorities pending the outcome of the investigation against him after he rejected pleas to step down. Only after he was arrested in July did he give up his senior FIFA and UEFA roles.
Free on bail as he awaits trial on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents, Villar again denied any wrongdoing and warned that the national team could lose their spot at next year’s World Cup in Russia.
“The only ones responsible for the possibility that the national team could miss out on the World Cup is the current government,” said Villar at his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials. “The risk is serious.”
“No one wants this, least of all me, but there are other national teams like Italy that missed out on the World Cup that will jump at the chance to take a World Cup spot.”
La Liga president Javier Tebas, a long-time critic of Villar, dismissed his comments. “Villar is old FIFA and his way of behaving for 70 years has been fear and threats,” charged Tebas. “This is one more that is not going to happen. FIFA is not going to do it [kick Spain out]. Spain is simply maintaining the rule of law. Villar has accused the government many times. Villar lives in a bubble.”
Spain’s Secretary of State for sport Jose Ramon Lete has already played down a World Cup ban and repeated that stance in the wake of Villar’s remarks.
“I’m convinced that [Spain’s World Cup place] is not in danger,” he said.
FIFA has made no mention of a possible ban and officials from both parties are due to meet soon to try and thrash out a compromise.
Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favours in exchange for votes. But Villar says his suspension has broken FIFA rules.
“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence.”
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