CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in DUBAI: Yousuf Al Serkal, in launching his AFC presidency manifesto, presented himself as the man to unite the turbulent and fractured Asian Football Confederation.

The AFC votes for a new president on May 2 and Al Serkal headed towards Kuala Lumpur focusing on transparency and governance, arguably the most important issues after the scandal-wracked last two years.

He also took strident issue with the controversial and – for many – unwelcome attempt by the Olympic Council of Asia to influence the election in favour of one of his rivals, Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa.

His own man: UAE football chief Yousuf Al Serkal

The other two candidates ambitious to succeed disgraced Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam for an initial two-year tenure are Worawi Makudi (Thailand) and Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej.

Al Serkal raised his concerns about the OCA in a question-and-answer session in Dubai.

Does the support of OCA for Sheikh Salman concern you?

To be honest it does not concern me about the effect it might have in influencing the voting. But what concerns me most is the interference from a respectful organisation such as the OCA into the affairs of another organisation as the AFC.

We don’t see this happening anywhere in the world or on different continents.

As in Europe we have campaigns and voting and elections for presidents . . . but but we don’t see any interference from any Olympic organisations into the affairs of football organisations – this is only happening in Asia.

If this was only [OCA president] Sheikh Ahmad [Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah] himself as an individual doing that on a personal level, it would be OK. It would be a personal thing. Everyone has the right to support one candidate or another but [it seems] it’s been done in an official way.

I have heard they’ve already made some reservations in Kuala Lumpur for hotel rooms to be there during the election time. That is really a direct interference which I regret seeing it in our AFC affairs.

Sheikh Salman has a lot of contacts and is confident of support in East Asia. Do you believe you can beat him?

Well, if Sheikh Salman were not confident he would withdraw now. I am sure he is receiving promises from a certain number of federations but I know, from my experience, that I will win. I’m sure about that.

Not only by promises but by my old and new contacts in the football federations. I’ve always been in contact with them throughout my service in AFC, so I know the people who are talking to me and I know if they mean it or not.

So I’m sure and confident that whoever has promised me they meant it and Sheikh Salman – if he has contacts in East Asia he would have contact with one or two federations better than my contact or maybe sympathy from them – but the majority are supporting me.

Will anyone withdraw?

I have been hearing talk that our friend from Saudi will be withdrawing. I haven’t heard it directly from him officially. I’ve heard him hinting toward it though he did not come out clearly and say it.

However I have been following the campaigns of the different candidates and, out of the other three, Dr Hafez is not doing a lot of movement, his campaigning is very soft which gives an indication to me that he will be withdrawing but closer to the election.

Would he support you?

We are in very good contact and we are very close in the AFC executive committee. If he is withdrawing, I’m sure he would be supporting me.

You spoke a lot about transparency and unity yet there are factions within Asian football who believe that your previous closeness to Mohamed Bin Hammam might work against you?

During the time of Bin Hammam who was not close to the president of AFC? All of us were close, supporting him to work positively in favour of the AFC. That was supposed to be our attitude toward any president.

What makes me and him closer is we come from the same region, we come from neighbouring countries, we’ve known each other for a long time and, yes, I am a close friend of Bin Hammam but that friendship had nothing to do with the work we used to do.

I always had different ideas and opinions and conflict in the meetings with him and once I had different opinions I would always raise it and it did not please Bin Hammam for me to raise it – but that’s who I am. I keep friendship separate from work.

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