Interview: Infantino consults Platini during FIFA campaign
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Interview: Infantino consults Platini during FIFA campaign
Feb. 01, 2016
LONDON (AP) — Although banished from power in world football, Michel Platini remains a guiding voice for Gianni Infantino as the FIFA presidential campaign enters the final stretch.
Infantino is in unfamiliar territory lobbying for votes, striking deals with federations after emerging unexpectedly from relative global obscurity as European football's top administrator in Platini's UEFA presidency.
"He is suspended from football related matters, but he is not suspended from speaking with people," Infantino said of Platini in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. "So definitely I am speaking with him. We speak about many things."
The 45-year-old Infantino never spoke of ambitions to run the world's most popular sport until his boss was suspended by FIFA in October.
Platini's bid to succeed Sepp Blatter was fatally destroyed by the eight-year ban handed down in December for seeking — and receiving — 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) from FIFA in 2011 for work he claimed was carried out nine years earlier but lacked a written contract.
The sanctions, which also prematurely ended Blatter's presidency, escalated an already grave crisis in FIFA following two waves of arrests of football officials last year.
Infantino is not ready to abandon Platini, standing by the former France captain while appeals are pursed and consulting the former favorite for the FIFA presidency.
"There is a procedure going on," Infantino said. "We have to wait for the final results."
The more pressing result Infantino awaits is the secret ballot of FIFA's 209 member associations Feb. 26. If Infantino sees off four challengers — the strongest being Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa — he will be inheriting a governing body with its credibility at rock bottom.
Given the lack of trust in football officials, the FIFA presidency might no longer seem so attractive.
"It's because I love football, because I feel the responsibility for doing the right thing for football," Infantino said overlooking the Wembley Stadium pitch on the London leg of his campaign tour. "I can't simply sit down in my chair as UEFA general secretary and watch FIFA destroy itself or be destroyed. I need to act. I need to take responsibility."
When pressed who is destroying FIFA, Infantino was more guarded.
"It's very clear that if somebody has stolen money, he has to go to jail. This is very clear. So I'm applauding all the authorities who are investigating," he said.
"If you have done nothing then you have nothing to fear ... and I want to take on this responsibility because it's important to restore FIFA's image. It's important to restore FIFA's reputation."
How much power Infantino would actually be able to exercise at FIFA remains unclear. Infantino helped to formulate reforms to FIFA's governance that will reduce the president's power and see a new chief executive — replacing the role of secretary general — assume control of business operations.
At the same time, it seems American lawyers exert considerable authority in FIFA's Zurich headquarters as criminal investigations continue.
"I don't know who is running FIFA," Infantino said. "I don't think it's American lawyers. I'm certainly very confident about myself if elected FIFA president to be running FIFA ... I'm sure I can do that job pretty well with the help of everyone including the American lawyers."
Much of the bribery and money-laundering that has brought FIFA to its knees occurred in the Americas.
Infantino maintains that there will be greater oversight of how FIFA cash is spent — particularly in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. FIFA disclosed Monday that those confederations have had their payments from HQ halted — including $10 million due to CONCACAF — while corruption investigations continue.
Cash pledges are at the heart of Infantino's manifesto pledges.
Each of FIFA's members will be offered $5 million to invest in development projects and running costs — a huge increase on the $2.05 million per federation 2011-2014 — and another $1 million, if required, for travel, which would be attractive to small nations in remote regions.
Additionally, each of the six confederations will be handed $40 million to invest in development projects and their regional offshoots in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America can request another $4 million to organize youth tournaments. Perhaps it is little surprise that Infantino has been sweeping up endorsements from the Caribbean and South America in recently weeks.
Much of FIFA's revenue is generated by the World Cup and the center-piece of Infantino's manifesto is expanding the showpiece by eight teams to allow 40 countries to participate in the finals from 2026.
Additionally appealing to African voters, Infantino disclosed Monday that he wants an administrator from the continent to become the first non-European secretary general at FIFA, replacing the fired Jerome Valcke.
At Monday's Wembley campaign event, Infantino paraded a line-up of footballing figures — from former players Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos to managerial greats Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho — in a bid to flaunt support from across the game.
"He is very capable, very experienced, with complete knowledge of everything around football and his organization," Mourinho told The Associated Press in his first public comments since being fired by Chelsea in December. "I think FIFA needs credibility and I think he is the one."
Convincing regular fans to trust any football leader in future will be tough.
"People in football they know me," Infantino said. "They know they can trust me and everyone should definitely trust me."
Infantino is also competing against ex-FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.
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