Infantino takes centre stage in FIFA battle

Gianni Infantino (AFP)
Gianni Infantino (AFP)

Nyon - Gianni Infantino made his name as UEFA's master of ceremonies until scandal forced his boss Michel Platini out of the race for the FIFA presidency.

The shaven-headed Swiss-Italian lawyer is in a close fight with Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa and three other candidates for the leadership of world football to be decided on Friday.

 Since becoming UEFA general secretary in 2009, the 45-year-old Infantino has become best known to the football public as the man who takes out the lottery balls when the draw is made for the Champions League.

Behind the scenes he has also played a key role in giving the European confederation the financial power to rival FIFA.

He is very much a behind-the-scenes figure much valued by Europe's leading clubs who battle for Champions League honours and riches each season.

Infantino was born in Brigue, less than 10 kilometres from Viege the home village of Sepp Blatter, the man he now wants to replace at FIFA.

But his rise would not have come without Platini's downfall over a suspect $2 million payment that Blatter approved to the Frenchman in 2011. Platini is currently appealing against an eight year ban imposed by FIFA.

Infantino had said he would stand aside if his boss won an appeal. But now he is the the main rival to Sheikh Salman for the FIFA top post.

"I am not looking for power," he told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin at the weekend. "A few months ago, I was not even thinking about launching into this adventure.

"But football is going through a difficult period and some people now have to take their responsibility."

Infantino is multilingual, speaking English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. He is also a workaholic trusted by the big clubs who were Platini's major backers.

Infantino is "someone that Platini could trust to reform and improve UEFA's administration", said a representative of a major club, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Platini camp is now annoyed by the ambitions of the Frenchman's former right-hand man who has come out of the shadows with an ambitious plan for FIFA.

Infantino has proposed increasing the 32-team World Cup to 40 countries. FIFA should consider allowing two or more countries to host the event, he said.

Infantino also wants to give $5 million every four years to each member association and $40 million to each of the six continental confederations.

"He was named as a manager, but he knows how to do politics," said one member of Platini's entourage.

Infantino has Swiss and Italian nationality and is an Inter Milan supporter.

Former secretary general of the International Centre for Sports Studies at the University of Neuchatel, Infantino joined UEFA in 2000 to take charge of its legal and commercial affairs and gradually rose through the ranks.

According to his UEFA CV, Infantino handled contacts with the European Union and governments as well as clubs.

He helped create UEFA's financial fair play rules that have aimed to rein in profligate clubs by stopping them spending more than they earn.

Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA deputy secretary general from France and South African tycoon Tokyo Sexwale are also in the election.

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