News Analysis: Infantino has a problem

By James Dostoyevsky

Yesterday, Switzerland’s staunchly conservative daily, known as ‘NZZ’ among Zurich’s intelligentsia, headlined its back page: ‘Gianni Infantino has a problem’. The paper proceeded to list a host of “problems”, all of which look to be self-inflicted. And some of which will lead (have led) to an Ethics investigation by a man who cannot be bought: Cornel Borbély is a strong fighter for the good, and has no worries about being asked to leave. For the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) to take a position at all, is unusual. But to take a critical one, is pretty close to an earthquake on FIFA’s Richter Scale.

A day or two before, Marco Villiger, FIFA’s Chief Lawyer and one of the few people who really knows what has been festering inside the organisation (after all, he either wrote or supervised key legal documents that are now being scrutinised by many a prosecutor, and for the signing of which a few people already had to bite the bullet), was paraded beside the new GS, Fatma Samoura. And so was an ex-footballer called Boban. Fine. Forget not the Norwegian globaliser, Kjetil Siem, whose claim to FIFA fame was that he introduced the ‘Handshake for Peace’ initiative to good old Blatter, so as to bring him closer to his lifelong dream: the Nobel Institute. And the much coveted Peace Prize (frankly, if Obama got the Peace Prize, I see no reason why Blatter couldn’t…but that’s another conversation entirely.)

Poor Ms Samoura is a good person, that much is a given. She is a hugely decent and professional woman with global experience in, well, charitable and humanitarian work and the logistics of distributing (UN) money. A crucial aspect in FIFA’s life, of course. But the fear is that she was selected as a smokescreen for some rather different plans young Gianni may have: to divert attention from his finaglings and let him secretly be the boss (which, by the new statutes, he is not: it is Ms Samoura…). I don’t think that she will succumb. Gianni may have miscalculated that one, too. She is a very kind person, cultured, multi-lingual and, from what we hear, solid as a rock when it comes to ethics.

Having arrived with a “I so hate FIFA” pedigree from far away UEFA (several big lakes west of Zurich), Infantino has large numbers of devils to fight: first of all, he is about as much liked at the ‘House of FIFA’ as an overripe boil on one’s backside during a long-distance flight in economy.

Secondly, his campaign to weed out those hated FIFA apparatchiks that made his life a living hell at UEFA, does not guarantee ever-lasting love and tenderness among FIFA’s petrified staffers who want to do their jobs, not to fear whether they will still have one tomorrow.

And thirdly, the honeymoon is truly over: the days of easyjet are properly forgotten and when FIFA Travel booked an 8-seater private jet a while back, they were reprimanded for it: apparently, the boss wanted a big bird that can hold 15 passengers (please don’t say “not true” – it isn’t only the FAZ that has the evidence on this).

The good man who was dismayed at a $2 million salary offer from former audit and compliance boss Domenico Scala (Ms Samoura’s will be higher, by statute) has issues dealing with what some are calling a reality-check: unlike Blatter, he is not the Numero Uno at FIFA because that’s not what the statutes say (he shouldn’t be too uncomfortable with that though: after all he has been a Number Two all of his life so far, hasn’t he?).

The Numero Uno is Ms Samoura, who finally arrived mysteriously in Zurich after she had apparently met good Gianni at a qualifier between Madagascar and her native Senegal. She says – in an interview with a paper called ‘Le Soleil’ – that it was she who contacted him some time in February this year and their mutual ‘like’ started to blossom ever since (?!). The rest we know: without asking anybody’s advice, Infantino appointed the lady to be boss. What we doubt, is whether he also told her about the grief she would encounter under his (increasingly questionable and questioned) leadership. Fact is, we don’t think he did. But being trained in UN style transparency, she actually may tell us all, one day, as well as how the miraculous appointment really came about.

So, he let her loose the other day, and she promptly imparted this wisdom to an eager audience: “FIFA’s administration will be split into two dedicated pillars: one designed to generate financial returns and operating the administrative work that comes along with it, and another one focused on developing football and organising the competitions.”

What he forgot to tell her prior to this fab announcement, is that this particular wisdom was in fact nicked from a competitor, one Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, who had published this same proposal in his campaign platform, well before Gianni even had one (platform, that is): (…) if I am elected I want to create “two FIFAs”: one that runs and governs football professionally as FIFA did so far, and the other that deals with nothing else but commerce, sales, marketing and income generation.

They say that theft of thoughts (copying) is the highest form of flattery. Well, the new FIFA ‘President’ is doing his very best to become ‘Commander in Chief of Flattery’ (copyright theft), all things considered. But not much more.

James Dostoyevsky is a Washington-based observer of politics and sports. He can be contacted at moc.l1709019655labto1709019655ofdlr1709019655owedi1709019655sni@o1709019655fni1709019655