By Andrew Warshaw
March 16 – No sooner had he been re-elected FIFA president for another four years than Gianni Infantino indulged in yet another unexpected monologue today, this time defending his organisation’s global standing and, more tellingly, his own personal reputation.
Before opening the floor at his post-Congress press conference in Rwanda, Infantino used the occasion to turn questioner himself as he entreated the media for fully 15 minutes to explain why there was so much criticism of FIFA and so many personal attacks.
With memories still fresh in the minds of those who witnessed his unprecedented rant on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar, Infantino was at it again, taking up half of the allotted time with his own personal quest for vindication and taking literally only a handful of questions afterwards despite a pivotal day in his FIFA career.
Portraying himself as a misunderstood, sensitive soul rather than the most powerful figure in world football, Infantino said he couldn’t understand why he and FIFA had received such a bad press in certain quarters of the media.
“Before the start of the World Cup in Doha I felt I had to defend the World Cup, today after being re-elected I feel I have to defend FIFA,” he said.
“There are few things I really don’t understand. For example, why are some of you so mean? I don’t get it. We don’t steal, we don’t profit, we all work hard.”
Infantino suggested, remarkably, that the reason some reporting was not sufficiently pro-FIFA was because those close to the FIFA hierarchy no longer cosy up to the media for their own ends. “Maybe we don’t leak secret information any more,” he declared.
Denouncing the emphasis in some quarters on FIFA’s finances rather than on the organisation’s efforts to enhance the game as a whole, Infantino went on: “Whenever some of you write about FIFA, you say it’s only about money, that FIFA is rich and just a money-making exercise. Obviously we need the money to make football grow and live.”
It was soon pretty clear who his remarks were directed at as he couldn’t resist having a go at the English Premier League which, he implied, receives none of the criticism levelled at FIFA even though “it generates in one year what FIFA makes in four.”
The difference, Infantino said, is that the money made by the Premier League over the same four-year period “is distributed essentially to 20 English clubs.”
“Well done, congratulations. When FIFA makes one quarter of that, the money doesn’t go to 20 clubs. It goes to 211 countries all over the world. That’s why we need the money.”
For all his attempts to justify FIFA’s strategy, Infantino conveniently overlooked that it’s not just sections of the media who question its motives. Stakeholders across the entire footballing spectrum constantly express serious doubts about FIFA’s expansionist policy which, in his earlier address at the Congress, Infantino made clear was only going to get even wider.
“When I hear there is too much football, yes, maybe in some places, but not everywhere,” he told delegates. “In fact, in most parts of the world there is not enough football played. We need way more and not less competitions, we want football to develop worldwide.”
Turning back to the press conference, Infantino attacked Europe’s richest leagues for applying double standards.
“I don’t know why the Italian league decides that a new super cup is played with four teams in Saudi Arabia. The Spanish do the same. Great, more revenues for them. Why doesn’t anyone react?
“These are more games for the same teams whereas we want to bring games to teams that do not play sufficient games. I don’t understand.”
Turning to personal attacks on him, Infantino was back on the defensive, citing what he claimed was unfair, or at least wrongly directed, reporting of his infamous Doha rant in November.
“Again, I ask why? You don’t need to love me and you can criticise me. But please remain factual. Journalists have a duty to be impartial and correct. I’ve spent my life working hard to get where I am. I don’t understand this animosity.”
Stressing he was elected unopposed “with a standing ovation”, Infantino, whose new competitions he said are helping to fund FIFA’s membership, concluded: “An overwhelming majority have the feeling that I’m doing a pretty good job.”
That may be so but maybe they also know that money talks.
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