KEIR RADNEDGE in ZURICH: The moment on which the FIFA election – and perhaps the world football federation’s entire future – turned came late in Gianni Infantino’s address to congress.
The 45-year-old had delivered a traveller’s tale about his campaigning journey around the world before turning to his intention to expand development revenues. This was a pledge which had been criticised sharply by main rival Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
Infantino said he believed in his own managerial track record at FIFA and that the world federation should be well able to afford greater investment in the worldwide game.
He said: “If FIFA generate $5bn in revenues is it normal that $1.2bn cannot be distributed for reinvestment in football? What does FIFA have to do but reinvest the money in football? That’s 25pc? Are you telling me it’s a problem?”
Then he aswered his own question, by saying: “It is not . . . because the money of FIFA is your money” — meaning the monies of the national associations who comprise FIFA.
Immediately the hall erupted into applause and awoke to an apparent new perception that Infantino was not merely a European substitute but a serious contender.
Kozho Tashima, the FIFA exco member who steps up as president of the Japan Football Association on March 27, reflected the reaction of a number of delegates.
Tashima said: “At that moment in congress hall I really felt that something changed. I looked around and I believe that other delegates were also affected by it too. It was a very important moment.”
Japan was among a group of East Asian nations who had been claimed before the vote, by sources close to Sheikh Salman, as his certain supporters.
However a number of delegates – without wanting to be quoted – said that their voting intentions for the second round had been influenced both by the fact that Infantino led after the first round . . . and by the one sentence which electrified the hall.
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