KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Marco Villiger, largely unknown to the fan on the street but one of the most significant figures in FIFA’s modern unhappy history, has left the world football federation.
Villiger, who had been joint deputy secretary-general alongside former Croatia midfielder Zvonimir Boban, was previously legal director and had been the last senior survivor from the regime of disgraced and banned former president Sepp Blatter.
His sudden departure, after 16 years at FIFA, was being viewed by long-time FIFA observers as a signal that current president Gianni Infantino is confident that the worst of the FIFAGate years is now in the past. Hence Villiger’s unrivalled understanding of the complexities of the scandal-scarred years is no longer required to protect the world governing body.
A FIFA statement said simply: “FIFA’s deputy secretary general (administration) and chief legal & integrity officer Marco Villiger has left FIFA today.”
Secretary-general Fatma Samoura said: “During all these years, Marco has been a pillar of the organisation. I congratulate him wholeheartedly on his great career within FIFA, in which he has consistently demonstrated his expertise and professionalism, as well as his dedication to this great organisation.
“His competence earned him the trust and respect of internal and external stakeholders. I wish Marco all the best in his future endeavours.”
Villiger, who would have been well aware for some time that his days were numbered, was quoted as saying: “I had the privilege to be part of FIFA in different roles with different responsibilities. After accomplishing a successful FIFA World Cup in Russia, the time for me has come to turn the page to a new chapter, seeking for new challenges.”
The terms of his departure are assumed to ensure that he has no immediate financial need to rush out in search of a new job. He will also have agreed, in return, to abide by a comprehensive confidentiality clause covered his insider’s knowledge.
Villiger graduated in 2000 from the University of Zurich and, two years later, joined FIFA and became head of disciplinary matters until after the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The following year he became director of the legal division overseeing issues of players’ status (transfer disputes, agents etc), commercial legal (sponsorship, licensing, bidding and broadcasting agreements), discipline (doping, suspensions, irregular betting) and corporate (compliance, litigation, general contracts).
Villiger is understood to have taken the lead role in the appointment of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to act for FIFA ahead of the swoop by the Swiss and United States authorities in May 2015 when seven senior football executives were detained in Zurich on the eve of FIFA Congress on corruption charges.
Blatter, the then president, has denied all prior knowledge of the appointment of Quinn Emanuel. Further Blatter has indicated he believes that Villiger and the then secretary-general Jerome Valcke, had advance knowledge of the police raid on the Baur au Lac hotel, the arrests and the US court case which made a laughing stock of the world football federation.
Villiger had always appeared content to remain a largely behind-the-scenes figure at FIFA, content to leave the media grandstanding to the presidents and secretary-generals.
Earlier this year speculation over the future of Samoura ranged over the possibility of Villiger either replacing her as secretary-general or leaving FIFA altogether.