KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, while sailing close to the wind, appears to have accelerated towards victory in the FIFA presidential election in Zurich on February 26.

To win the right to take over as the head of the world football federation in succession to disgraced and banned Sepp Blatter, the Bahraini needs at least a simple majority of the 209 national federation votes.

Top men . . . Issa Hayatou and Sheikh Salman

He is growing increasingly confident, despite the problems in Kuwait assailing key supporter Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah as well as the Iran/Saudi tensions, that he can pull together a decisive number of votes in Asia plus Europe through a deal with UEFA . . . and, now, Africa.

Sheikh Salman is president of the Asian Football Confederation on behalf of which he signed, today, a memorandum of understanding on development and co-operation – no prizes for guessing what that means – with the Confederation of African Football.

Electoral rules

While all his four rivals may be seething, Sheikh Salman’s action as head of the AFC should satisfy FIFA’s electoral committee that he had not breached rules concerning the use of a formal position in personal interest.

His election rivals – Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, Frenchman Jerome Champagne, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale – will have noted the significant message sent out by the alliance signed between Sheikh Salman and Issa Hayatou, the CAF leader.

Hayatou also just also happens to be interim head of FIFA who will preside over next month’s election congress.

Sheikh Salman hailed the MoU as a means to “deepen cooperation” between the two confederations while Hayatou revealed they had started preparatory work last May in Zurich, that is, before the unravelling which led to next month’s election.

The signing took place in Kigali after Sheikh Salman flew on to Rwanda after spending spending three days in Ghana gathering support during the West African Football Union Congress.

While in Accra Sheikh Salman promised to maintain the development finance support for Africa which had proved such a valuable factor in keeping Blatter in power for nearly 18 years.

Sheikh Salman said: “I have been elected by my national federation as vice-president in the 1998 and president in 2002 until 2015 I was head of a confederation.

Blatter legacy

“Now, nobody can deny what Sepp Blatter did for the developing countries whether it’s the financial aid programmes or Goal Projects and other programmes, without which other countries won’t be playing football.

“Of course, I share his vision as well and I totally agree with the development FIFA has brought to world football. But, how to do it, I have my ways and how to do it as well.”

The MoU is valid for four years with a renewal option and focuses on cooperation involving a sharing of information, experience, initiation of high level competitions and the development of joint technical programmes in fields such as coaching, refereeing, youth football, women’s football, integrity, administration, marketing, media and innovative technologies.

CAF’s general secretary, Hicham El Amrani, indicated a decision on which FIFA candidate to support would be taken by the confederation’s executive committee early next month.

El Amrani said: “We have an executive committee meeting on February 5 in Kigali and the question will be put vis-a-vis the FIFA presidential elections, so it will then be in the hands of the executive committee and its president to decide on which path to follow.”

An endorsement of Sheikh Salman will now be no surprise.