KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA president Gianni Infantino appears to be retreating for the time being over one central plank of the $25bn deal to reorganise the world football federation’s competitions.
Opposition from within European federation UEFA to the proposal for an expanded and revamped Club World Cup every four years has forced Infantino to think again about rushing forward an emergency meeting of FIFA Council.
Infantino’s idea was that the governing body would approve the concept of moving forward with a rebranded club competition as well as a global nations league. However UEFA has made plain its opposition to the rush to cash.
As one federation supremo put it in Lyon last week before the Europa League Final: “Why is FIFA meddling in club football when it has the World Cup, the biggest football brand there is?”
UEFA leaders were also irritated that Infantino, their former general secretary, appeared to want to steal their nations league clothes. However his worst mistake was the attempt to bulldoze through the 12-year deal without revealing the source of the finance, believed to be a Saudi/UAE consortium led by Japan’s Softbank.
Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, told a European Union policy debate that “football is not for sale.”
The original 60-day deadline imposed by the consortium on Infantino has been extended but there is no prospect of a FIFA Council discussion now before the autumn.
Infantino had held meetings in Zurich with representatives of the world’s biggest clubs and sent joint deputy secretary-general Zvonimir Boban to Italy and England to ‘sell’ the idea to domestic league bosses over the head of UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
That went down badly and further exacerbated bad feeling betweeen the two bodies. Boban is understood to have returned to Zurich with his tail between his legs to report back European intransigence.
FIFA has not been able to fill all its sponsorship slots for the imminent World Cup in Russia partly because of continuing doubts over the world federation’s credibility and tattered image following a decade of financial and votings scandals.
Hence Infantino appears to have decided that he dare not run the risk of being rebuffed in council over the $25bn deal because that, in effect, would have been a vote of no confidence in his own personalised leadership style.
Ceferin did not name Infantino in his salvo to European politicians but the direction of his criticism was clear.
He said: “I cannot accept that some people, some of our colleagues, who are blinded by the pursuit of profit are considering to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private fund. We are not the owners of football. We are not allowed to sell it.”