MOSCOW: Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko came out publicly two weeks ago in favour of Gianni Infantino as next president of FIFA; but President Vladimir Putin now appears to have other ideas writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Russia and Bahrain are cosying up in a way that could mean Mutko being ordered to cast his federation’s vote on February 26 in favour, instead, of Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

Given Russian power and influence that would mean Mutko ‘persuading’ more than half a dozen federations – both European and Asian – to abandon Infantino, never mind his status as general secretary of UEFA, in favour of the Bahraini head of the Asian confederation.

Mutko, apart from his sports ministry status and leadership of the Russian footnall federation, is an influential member of the FIFA executive committee and heads the local organising committee for the 2018 World Cup.

He has always been a Putin loyalist ever since their early political days together in St Petersburg.

Signs emerged of a far more important shared interest than merely the leadership of world football after this week’s Kremlin summit between Putin and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The TASS news aggency reported Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying later: “The heads of state discussed cooperation on international affairs, on regional issues and discussed the situation unfolding in the Middle East and in the north of Africa.”

This included agrement on the next steps concerning resolutions of the inter-related conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen, as well as the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine/Israel.

According to TASS, Russia and Bahrain have agreed to develop cooperation “in all spheres.”

Infantino and Sheikh Salman’s other FIFA rivals – Jordan’s Prince Ali, Frenchman Jerome Champagne and South African Tokyo Sexwale – will inevitably read that as including the election in Zurich to choose a successor to Sepp Blatter, now banned and disgraced.

Putin has always refrained from criticising Blatter who was opposed in his re-election last year by Infantino’s UEFA.

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