Behind the scenes at Champions League final, battle begins to replace Sepp Blatter

Whoever succeeds Blatter will have to jump though many more hoops than his predecessor

Sam Wallace
Thursday 04 June 2015 07:11
Russian President Vladimir Putin, far right, with the Fifa President Sepp Blatter, centre, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff after the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil
Russian President Vladimir Putin, far right, with the Fifa President Sepp Blatter, centre, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff after the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil

The Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus in Berlin could prove to be one of the most captivating in the competition’s recent history if the recent form of the incomparable Lionel Messi is anything to go by. But behind the scenes the great European football machine will be going into overdrive.

The dethroning of Sepp Blatter as Fifa president has caused the biggest shift in the politics of football’s world governing body for a generation.

The Swiss was first elected in 1998 as the anointed successor of his predecessor Joao Havelange. But now the battle to unseat him has been won, the race to win the peace is in full flow.

The big hitters at Uefa have cancelled a formal meeting in the German capital after Blatter’s resignation. They had planned to discuss a number of options including the proposal by Allan Hansen, the Danish Uefa executive committee member, to boycott the 2018 World Cup finals.

Now the challenge is to find a unifying candidate who can achieve the popularity with Asian and African nations that Blatter had – without the compromises he made to get it.

The Dutch Uefa executive committee member Michael van Praag was the strongest figure who stepped aside in the Uefa consensus to back Prince Ali bin al-Hussein against Blatter at the election last week.

Van Praag did so reluctantly, telling a meeting at Uefa that he believed he had the best candidacy but understood that the Jordanian had a better chance of picking up votes in Asia. In the end, Blatter garnered just as much support from that continent as his opponent.

Van Praag, 67, a former chairman of the leading Dutch club Ajax and chairman of his country’s football association has strong support in Europe but, as with all Uefa candidates, his challenge will be to pick up voters farther afield.

He has said he would serve only a single term, which would be until 2019 when the next scheduled elections will be held. By that time, many believe that Michel Platini, the current Uefa president, would be in a position to take over.

Dutchman Michael van Praag is an early front-runner to become Fifa president

The key doubt over Platini standing now is his support of Qatar in the 2022 World Cup finals vote. His vote for the Gulf state has been rooted in controversy with allegations that he was told to back them by the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Platini has always denied this. But with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 tournament in the balance, and the award the focus of an investigation by the Swiss and US authorities, it would be difficult for Platini to stand at the extraordinary congress held by Fifa to replace Blatter, which will take place sometime between December and March.

Supporters of Prince Ali have examined the Fifa statutes to explore whether Blatter’s resignation means that their candidate should be given the role by default. That approach, taken by his Jordanian advisors, rather than those hired in Britain, is not thought to be realistic. Nevertheless, Prince Ali is a viable candidate for the post-Blatter elections for the same reasons Uefa united behind him as the best candidate last time.

In the post-Blatter landscape, the English Football Association vice-chairman David Gill will have a role to play. He resigned from the Fifa executive committee last week in protest at Blatter’s refusal to step down and his affiliation with Manchester United, and their global appeal, has meant that he has always been sought out by delegates from Africa and Asia. But there is no prospect of him running for the presidency before 2019.

An interesting outside runner is the vice-president of the Japan Football Association, Kozo Tashima. The 57-year-old is a Fifa executive committee member and has impressed the English FA with his willingness to oppose Blatter. He called yesterday for the outgoing Fifa president to step down now, rather than wait until the extraordinary congress. Tashima is regarded as a highly credible figure who would appeal across a broader range of the Fifa nations than another white European male. He is a former Japan international footballer.

The future outlined by Domenico Scala, the independent chairman of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee, included term limits for the president, publication of salaries and centralised integrity checks.

Whoever succeeds Blatter will have to jump though many more hoops than his predecessor, but the biggest challenge will be gaining a majority from 209 different football nations.

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