AMSTERDAM: Embattled FIFA president Gianni Infantino is being dragged directly into the UEFA election struggle in an apparent attempt to shore up the campaign of Dutchman Michael Van Praag writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

The head of the Dutch federation was the first candidate to throw his hat into the ring once Michel Platini – banned from football over financial misconduct – had conceded he had lost a fight to clear his name and had to resign.

The 55 member associations of UEFA will elect their new president at an extraordinary congress in Athens on September 14. Three declared candidates are Van Praag, Slovenia federation chief Aleksander Ceferin and UEFA’s Spanish senior vice-president Angel Maria Villar.

Ceferin claims significant support from eastern Europe and the Nordic nations while Villar will look to his ‘old guard’ allies in both UEFA and FIFA. Amid all these manoeuvres Van Praag has grown increasingly concerned about whether Infantino – ongoing subject of FIFA ethics inquiry speculation – is seeking to influence events.

Change of role

A report in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant claims that last May Infantino sent Norwegian aide Kjetil Siem to a meeting of the northern European FAs in Milan to urge them to back Ceferin. Siem was in thr throes of quitting as general secretary of the Norwegian federation to take up a role as Infantino’s director of strategy at FIFA.

Van Praag reportedly confronted Infantino in his hotel room in Milan on the eve of the Champions League final at the end of May. Infantino denied all involvement. Van Praag said: “He was angry that this story went around and said he could never afford something like this, being the president of FIFA.”

FIFA, while confirming Siem’s involvement at the meeting, denied that he had been an emissary of Infantino.

A statement said: “Kjetil Siem was not sent on behalf of the FIFA president to Milan. At the time of the meeting, he was still an employee of the Norwegian Football Association.

“With regard to the UEFA presidential election, it is up to the members of UEFA to choose their new president. The FIFA President is not involved in these elections and does not support any particular candidate.”

A statement is expected shortly about whether the FIFA ethics committee will open a formal investigation into internal complaints about Infantino’s conduct in office since he was elected as FIFA president in February in succession to banned and disgraced Sepp Blatter.