LONDON: Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s senior football powerbroker, reportedly ignored a plea last year from FIFA president Gianni Infantino to step away from the game.
A report in the Mail on Sunday claimed sources in Moscow for the latest controversial claim surrounding Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister and former Sports Minister.
Mutko is also president of the Russian football federation, a member of the governing bodies both the world federation and of Europe’s UEFA and heads rthe 2018 World Cup local organising committee. He is standing again later this year for the UEFA executive committee and the FIFA Council.
This, however, was reportedly against the wishes of Infantino – though Mutko has denied it.
Infantino reportedly contacted Mutko after accusations that Russia’s sports supremo could not have been ignorant of the alleged Russian doping cover-up system uncovered by investigator Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency.
A source in Moscow told the MoS that Infantino phoned Mutko shortly before last September’s election for the presidency of the Russian Football Union.
The source said: “There was a clear message that Mr Mutko’s ongoing involvement at administrative level was a potential embarrassment to FIFA.”
In the event Mutko took no notice and was re-elected as RFU president by 266 votes to 142 from long-time critic Valery Gazzayev, the former international forward and coach.
Gazzayev’s campaign was based on a need for the Russian game to be run by someone with a 100pc focus on football, with the national team in crisis after Euro 2016 and the World Cup hosting looking.
Mutko had been RFU president from 2005 to 2009 when he was forced to stand down, much to his annoyance, by a law change enacted by the then Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, barring government ministers from holding organisational leadership roles.
Once Vladimir Putin had regained the presidency in 2012 that law was scrapped, clearing the way for Mutko to regain control of the RFU amid financial problems in 2015.
FIFA offered no comment on the report which was denied by Mutko himself.
He said, according to news agency TASS: “This is silly. If Infantino did [do that], I would not have run. We have good relations with FIFA and, should recommendations of the kind come from them, we would have minded them.”