5 Jun 2015

Can Uefa’s Platini win the power play to become Fifa president?

“Bonjour Mr Platini. Allez-vous faire campagne pour le président de la Fifa?”

A slight flick of the eyebrows but a steely gaze. And he walked straight on. No answer.

Now my French is far from perfect, but Mr Platini got my gist (see image below). And the last thing he or indeed anyone at Uefa wants to talk about in public is how, when, or if their president might run for the big job, Fifa president. They want to present a united front. A rare thing in world football these days.

The leaders of European football will spend the next two days – before the Champions League final – huddled in furtive discussion.

Aside from his well-known links to, and support of, the controversial Qatari World Cup bid, does Mr Platini have the support of all 54 Uefa nations to take over from Sepp Blatter? And beyond European shores, can their football emissaries around the world persuade African and Asian football officials to back him too?

Suspicion and scepticism

It won’t be easy. Consider this. Several European votes last week – including the powerful Russians – went to Mr Blatter. Not his opponent, Prince Ali of Jordan.

Now, clearly the game has changed since then – heck, is changing every day, every hour. But in Africa and Asia, where the bulk of Fifa’s 209-strong electorate lie, one thing stays the same. Suspicion and scepticism about the motives behind the US-led corruption investigations.

A feeling voiced by the Russian President Vladimir Putin that England and the USA, who both lost their bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, are throwing sour grapes.

So building allegiances for a European to run world football is somewhat undermined when British politicians talk of England’s readiness to host the 2022 World Cup should Fifa ask. Proof to some it was a plot all along that the snobby Brits just want to keep football for themselves.

David Gill, the English Fifa exco member who temporarily resigned in protest at Blatters re-election, told me in Berlin that John Whittingdale’s comments in the commons yesterday were “unnecessary at this stage”.

Football power shift

England’s finest footballing hour? 1966, of course. A World Cup the African nations boycotted because they were given no mandatory qualification berth for the finals. The winner of the Africa pool had to play off against a European team to make it through.

How times have changed – in Brazil there were five. The rest of the world’s obeisance to Sepp Blatter isn’t just about money. His reign has also entrenched a genuine shift in the power structures propping up the “beautiful game”.

For a moment tomorrow evening, hearts and minds may be diverted by a more conventional football contest. The best two teams in Europe: Juventus v Barcelona.

Luis Figo, who’s played in and won the Champions League finals, knows a thing or two about winning teams. He also ran for Fifa president along with Prince Ali, before pulling out at the last minute. But he wouldn’t predict the outcome of tomorrow night.

“I’m not a magician,” he told me in the lobby of Uefa’s luxury hotel in Berlin.

The same might be said of making predictions about football’s other power play at the moment. Who will run for – in fact, who will be – the next Fifa president?

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