In a week’s time, FIFA’s new-look executive committee is due to decide on a date for the eagerly-awaited extraordinary congress that will elect a successor to Sepp Blatter after 17 often turbulent years in charge.
Once that date is known, attention will immediately switch to candidates who may be considering putting their names forward to become the symbolic first head of football’s world governing body in the post-Blatter era.
Who will they be? A big question because there is simply no obvious contender. Just about anyone you pick has as many factors against him as for. You may as well stick a pin in a map.
Let’s go through the prospective list, starting with UEFA president Michel Platini, the bookies’ favourite.
Platini 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 by the veteran Swiss, 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 another four-year term, many took the view Platini might take over in 2019.
But Blatter’s decision to step down has, in a way, caused more problems than it solves for Platini. Does he now bring his FIFA ambitions forward? Or does he continue to bide his time even though he may never get another chance?
As long he has air to breathe, 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 his supporters against Platini, arguably the one contender he would be least likely to endorse.
Everyone knows there is no love lost between the pair as a result of Blatter’s decision to change his mind about standing again after originally promising 2011-15 would be his final term. Platini’s admission that he personally pleaded with Blatter to throw in the towel before his recent re-election following 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 too. Would he really be comfortable 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? A Frenchman jumping ship just as France was gearing up to become the centre of global football attention?
No-one (apart, perhaps, from his closest advisers) knows Platini’s current mindset. Depending on exactly when the election is, he will have to make up his mind in the not too distant future. The fact that he openly admitted he voted for Qatar to stage the 2022 World Cup is another important consideration to take into account, given the current Swiss probe into the entire bid process. Perhaps he will reveal all at the Champions League draw in Monaco at the end of August when he holds his traditional summer session with the media. That, on the other hand, may be too early.
Let’s switch now to Blatter’s only adversary last May, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein. Since losing the ballot, and his FIFA vice-presidency and exco place to boot, the Jordanian royal has gone as quiet as the proverbial mouse media-wise. No post-election explanation about where and how it might have gone wrong. No briefings, on or off the record.
Bruised by the margin of his defeat (though his 73 votes surpassed many peoples’ expectations), Prince Ali is not the kind of person to slink away sulking. 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 to concentrate on building up his Asian Football Development Project and other grass-roots programmes.
And let’s not forget one crucial determining factor.
To get to 73 votes, Prince Ali was heavily reliant on the backing of Platini and UEFA. Well, most of UEFA anyway. According to various insiders, he was none too pleased about being “deserted” on election day by a healthy number of European members. With even less European backing next time (assuming UEFA puts up its own candidate or endorses someone else), it is hard to see where Prince Ali’s support would come from. Unless he can persuade his own confederation, which so forcefully backed Blatter in May, to endorse his own candidacy. Unlikely.
While the likes of Diego Maradona and David Ginola (again!) are apparently considering putting their names forward, their chances would rate between slim and none. 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. Where have we heard that before?
Who else? Jeffrey Webb, not so long ago the voice of morality, wrecked his hopes and his reputation by stupidly getting caught up in the FBI corruption probe. Musa Bility, the president of the Liberian FA, reportedly wants to stand but comes from a little-known African country and has a somewhat controversial past. 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 poor health.
The name of Asia’s most influential sports administrator, Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, is certainly one that has been doing the rounds. A strong Blatter ally (which may end up being a key factor whether Blatter’s critics like it or not), Sheikh Ahmed is president of the Association of National Olympic Committees and has just joined FIFA’s exco. But for all his authority, he surely hasn’t been at the top table of FIFA long enough to become its president.
Then there is South Korea’s Chung Mong-Joon, the billionaire former FIFA vice president. He has hinted at a challenge but whether, as part of the old guard, he could regain his previous standing and have sufficiently modernist ideas must be questionable.
Which brings us to a familiar name. One we have heard many times before. One which, in fact, started the whole previous process off.
Jerome Champagne, the first prospective contender to issue a manifesto last time, may be anathema to Platini and UEFA and may have not been able to secure the required five nominations.
But with Blatter no longer standing, the entire landscape has changed in terms of the in-tray of potential candidates. Champagne’s ideas for more equality and how football should be rebalanced have not changed. He may have been dismissed five years ago as FIFA’s deputy general secretary, a victim of an unsavoury political-style coup, but he has always maintained a strong relationship with Blatter.
By all accounts, Champagne hasn’t yet made up his mind whether to have another crack but it’s fair to suggest he’d stand a better chance than before. His critics would argue he has been out of FIFA for too long and that the last thing the organisation needs is a younger version of Blatter in terms of philosophy.
The multi-lingual Frenchman would doubtless counter that he has the requisite knowledge and the experience of the globalisation of football, has not been caught up in any of the recent corruption allegations, knows how FIFA functions and has a clear vision of how the game should be run more democratically and transparently in the future.
Could he become president? Well let’s say his chances have not been harmed by the last few tempestuous months. Let’s face it, no-one will tick every box.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org