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Can Gianni Infantino Leave His Mark at FIFA?

The 2018 FIFA World Cup that will be played in Russia has been in the news for a variety of reasons, it is a little over 15 months away, and the game’s most powerful man Gianni Infantino is determined to ensure that absolutely nothing goes wrong.

Abhimanyu Sen | CNN-News18

Updated:March 6, 2017, 12:03 PM IST
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Can Gianni Infantino Leave His Mark at FIFA?
Gianni Infantino. (Getty Images)

New Delhi: The 2018 FIFA World Cup that will be played in Russia has been in the news for a variety of reasons, it is a little over 15 months away, and the game’s most powerful man Gianni Infantino is determined to ensure that absolutely nothing goes wrong.

Infantino has approved the usage of video replays for the Confederations Cup with the hope that it will become a game-changer. It’s one of many changes that will be implemented by FIFA and the IFAB in the future – some to be tested in the lower ranks of the game, while a few test runs will begin as soon as the 2016/17 FA Cup returns with the quarterfinal stage.

A year into his role as FIFA President, Infantino - a lawyer by profession, is struggling to keep up to his mandate of reforms. A mandate that all the bosses of the game have sworn by – sometimes the implementation has been questionable, but reform or change has been a clincher all along – the audience of the game though are used to this.

It is high time those in charge of the beautiful game walk the talk more than provide crisp quotes.

Light and Sound

Reform and change came under the spotlight in 2015 or at least the imminent lack of it when a battery of officials were indicted on charges of corruption. Regaining the trust of the fan was top priority and the legends of the game were called in to do what they do best – save the day – numerous times in their playing careers they had done so with great élan – but this was a different ball game.

This took the spotlight away from the dark reality that Infantino was faced with – eradicating corruption from the game. Such had been its effect – that FIFA and the integrity of the game was being questioned – and the game’s administration had been brought to its knees, the ingredient was greed for money and power.

The sideshow of having the best in the business beaming from ear to ear, a few months after the same lot expressed their grave concern about the way the sport was run, bought the Swiss-Italian time and breathing space that he so desperately needed to make a difference on the credibility count, it was a masterstroke of a move.

The Promises

Integrity in the way football is governed, more money for the underdeveloped associations and more slots at the World Cup was the crux of Infantino’s Presidential bid, and it was bound to make the voters feel positive.

Come 2026, the showpiece event in world football will see 48 teams participating for the top prize, the last time the World Cup saw an expansion was under Sepp Blatter in 1998 when 8 more participants were added to the existing 24. Like his predecessor, Infantino was going to leave his mark on the game – he was setting up stall to increase the number of sponsors, television rights et al, all directed to bring in the moolah. The governing body of the game was still recovering from FIFAGate, and more financial freedom was surely welcome.

“FIFA’s money is your money” he told 211 national football associations. Infantino had to back up the talk with the walk.

But importantly, behind the façade of pleasing the legends and the member associations, Infantino had trimmed his staff by almost a 100, that included Domenico Scala, the man who had more than a fair idea of how to go about reform. His road map was never utilised as he hastily left the organisation to fend for himself, all this under circumstances which were never really explained. The secrecy of the organisation’s working has been well documented and change in that quarter doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.

It wasn’t just Scala, the initial months of the 9th regime saw a lot of unrest, as roles changed at rapid pace. The organisation’s task force was divided into two halves – very aptly, one to look into footballing matters, while the other looked at hardcore administration.

Such was the speed at which things moved that Infantino seemed to have no place for discourse before deciding on matters. Desperate to leave a mark, the President’s quick ways resembled that of a power hungry dictator. Was the pressure of the job taking its toll?

A recent Transparency International study showed that the image of FIFA had improved by a mere 16% since Blatter’s reign, but 53% of the fans still did not believe in those who walked in the corridors of power in Zurich.

The Learning Curve

Once Gianni Infantino won the all-important Presidential election in 2016 – he joked, “I hope I have enough time now.”

In a recent letter which is addressed to ‘everyone who cares about football’, the former UEFA man says ‘Wherever there are people, there will always be mistakes – but the important thing is that we learn from them.’

What goes on inside the corridors of power and the boardrooms in Zurich is anybody’s guess, but a year into his new job Gianni Infantino has struck the right chord in terms of pleasing his voters as the game and its immediate workings face changes.

Infantino, like Sepp Blatter and the late Joao Havelange, is trying to score on the big stage and it isn’t easy. Like he has remarked, learning from mistakes is important – and this is where he can score over his predecessors.

Infantino asked for time, which he has been afforded, he has pleased the lot that voted him in, but it’s the 53% that do not trust his organisation who are crucial – because outside the headquarters in Zurich, the feeling of a lack of credibility has not gone away, and it isn’t likely to change soon.

In November, the FIFAGate chapter will be reopened and that is where FIFA have to strike the iron while it is hot – only then will they walk the talk.

| Edited by: Arnab Sen
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