KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Gianni Infantino has been president of FIFA for one year (since yesterday, February 26) on a promise to restore the world federation’s collapsed credibility, while simultaneously throwing lots more money around.
Yet, if whispers in Switzerland are to be believed he is about to prove himself not saviour but destroyer, bringing the entire edifice crashing down around his head – and burying himself beneath the rubble.
In May the world football federation holds its annual congress in Manama, Bahrain. Sources in Zurich are speculating that Infantino, having cleared out most of Sepp Blatter’s department heads, has his sights set on ridding himself of Hans-Joachim Eckert and Cornel Borbely, German judge and Swiss investigator of the ethics chamber.
They are at his mercy because, last year in Mexico City, Infantino smuggled through a clause in the statutes wiping away the independence of the judicial bodies. One man, audit and compliance chair Domenico Scala, resigned in protest. Eckert and Borbely sat tight.
Perhaps Infantino hoped they would follow Scala’s example. If so then they did not play his game. But talk around town is that, a year later, he wants congress to do the job for him.
That might appear a touch ungrateful. After all, it was because Eckert and Borbely brought down Blatter and would-be successor Michel Platini, that Infantino slipped through from the back of the field to snatch the top job.
Such manoeuvring, of course, is commonplace in parliamentary and corporate politics when a new man or woman takes command. It’s natural they want their own trusted aides in position of support.
But jettisoning Eckert and Borbely – and also, possibly, Blatter’s old legal director Marco Villiger, now joint deputy secretary-general – would send out a suicidal message.
All chance of restoring FIFA’s credibility would go with them. Eckert and Borbely – not Infantino and his merry men (including the American football fan Marco Van Basten) – stand between FIFA and legal and financial Götterdämmerung.
The ‘victim status’ which FIFA’s lawyers have battled so hard to maintain in the face of United States Justice Department suspicions, would be immediately jeopardised.
Certainly, Eckert and Borbely know far, far more about the inner workings and intrigues within FIFA past and present than their occasional dry judgment statements reveal.
Herein lies one simple reason for Infantino – if truly bent on FIFA self-destruction – to heed the old adage to keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies closer.
The prospect of Eckert and Borbely being shown the door may render FIFA’s critics and foes aghast. On the other hand, it may be precisely what they want.
Of course, this may be just be vicious, nasty, mischievous, idle gossip put around by Infantino’s growing collection of enemies at home and abroad.
FIFA watchers can do no more than watch for the small print in the agenda for May 11 in Bahrain.
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