KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Relations between the two richest bodies in world football, FIFA and UEFA, are better than for many a year according to world federation president Gianni infantino.
He should know. For 15 years until last February the 46-year-old Swiss-Italian was general secretary of the European governing body.
From close first hand he saw how the relationship between respective former leaders Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini slid from friendship and mutual admiration into bitter rivalry.
Infantino, despite his denials, is thought to have played an influential role behind in the scenes in the surprise accession to the UEFA presidency in September of the little-known Slovene Aleksander Ceferin.
The latter, in quashing speculation of a Champions League revision and Euro bidding favours, has played a steadily conservative hand in his first months in power – unlike Infantino’s rumbustious first 10 months at FIFA with a massive managerial clear-out and plans for World Cup expansion.
Contrast in style
However the difference in style has served Infantino well in terms of the FIFA/UEFA power balance.
In a wide-ranging interview with Spanish sports daily Marca, he said: “Relations between UEFA and FIFA are in very good condition. I know UEFA very well, and there is a new president in UEFA, Aleksander Ceferin, with whom I share many points of view about football.
“We understood from the first day that rivalry made no sense, it was stupid. The goal is the good of football. Let’s work hand in hand.”
Infantino admitted to concerns about an increase in crowd violence around the world, the consequences of so-called ‘illegal gambling’ as well as manipulation of the transfer and tax systems by agents and other hangers-on.
Positives of the past year included the steady rise of organised women’s elite football and the dramatic progress of the game in China and India.
Infantino was also confident about likely decisions next year to expand the World Cup to a possible 48 teams from 2026 and sought to allay concerns about extra pressure on players and the time factor.
He said: “The World Cup is more than a sports competition. It is a society event, more than football. The development and quality of the game has gone up a lot.
“For example, in the last World Cup Italy and England were eliminated by Costa Rica who were a good team but not on the level of Messi’s Argentina or Neymar’s Brazil. Football is no longer only Europe and South America.
“That is why it is important, if we can develop the regulations appropriately, to incorporate more countries in this event.
“An expanded tournament can be played in 32 days. The team who win will play seven games, like now. There will be 12 stadia, that does not change either.
“There are only positive aspects because football is open to everyone: 16 groups of three teams and then the knockout stage. We could see it already in 2026.”