Alan Hubbard

Will it be a Sheikh or another suit who wins the dubious right to try and drag FIFA out of the quagmire of corruption after almost half a century when the presidential election to replace Sepp Blatter takes place in February?

Or could it be that sport’s most malignant governing body is deemed unfit even for a prince?

The list of proposed candidates hardly constitutes a Magnificent Seven as the football world contemplates a scenario that has more than a whiff of a Witches’ Brew about it.

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

They are hardly an awe-inspiring bunch: There’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Musa Bility, Jérôme Champagne, Gianni Infantino, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Tokyo Sexwale and, of course, suspended UEFA president Michel Platini whose candidacy will only be confirmed if he clears his name in time.

Of these Jordan’s Prince Ali seems a marginal bookies’ favourite even though he was well and truly seen off by septic Sepp last time a vote was held.

I have always preferred the cut of 39-year-old Prince Ali’s royal jib to any of the others who have thrust themselves forward. Having met him I believe that like his elder sibling Prince Feisal, now a prominent member of the International Olympic Committee,  he is a relatively young man with some fresh ideas and decent principles, untainted by scandal and with the good of sport at heart.

Unlike some of his less appetising rivals he comes without baggage but whether he has the gravitas and muscle to rid FIFA of its Mafia-like image is open to question, though one would like to hope so.

For when Blatter constantly referred to the “FIFA family” it was if he was auditioning for Godfather IV.

Seven men are in the frame to replace Sepp Blatter
Seven men are in the frame to replace Sepp Blatter: (from left) Gianni Infantino, Sheikh Salman, Musa Bility, Prince Ali, Jérôme Champagne, Tokyo Sexwale and Michel Platini ©Getty Images

What I find astonishing is that global football cannot find from within its structure someone who is capable of running it who has actually played the game at a respectable level.

Of course there was Platini, and he still might be a runner if he can yet come up with a plausible explanation for the CHF 2 million (£1.3 million/$2.1 million/€1.8 million) he trousered for unspecified services rendered to his one-time but now estranged best friend Blatter some years ago.

At the moment Platini’s copybook is well and truly blotted, as is that of Franz Beckenbauer, another footballing legend whose reputation now seems indelibly scarred by allegations of fiscal wrongdoing by himself and the German FA.

Similarly disturbing rumours swirl around his fellow countryman and Bayern Munich buddy Karl-Heinz Rummenigge who, at one time, had seemed possible presidential material.

So who else is there from within the game who might have been soccer’s saviours? Well, Pele is past it, and no amount of Viagra, which he has famously advertised, will stiffen his resolve to steer clear.

Portugal’s Luis Figo has also thought better of it.

Mind you, his compatriot Jose Mourinho might be available soon.

Of course it is a bizarre thought but whatever else he may be, he is not bent, although it would be rather like putting Boris Johnson in charge of the United Nations.

So where is football’s Lord Coe, someone who can make the transition from greatness in the stadium to administrative genius?

The sad fact is, there isn’t one.

There are now suggestions that the February electoral process may have to be delayed because of the ongoing investigations by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

Should this be the case they could do worse than put Sir Alex Ferguson in temporary charge, giving more time to unearth a more substantial figure, perhaps from outside football, like a Sir Richard Branson.

No doubt Lord Alan Sugar, erstwhile chairman of Tottenham Hotspur,  would sort ‘em out as he does The Apprentices every week on TV.

I can’t help wondering just how many of Blatter’s old Swiss guard would be summarily told: ”You’re fired!”

As I have previously mentioned, football must have a supremo who is squeaky-clean, but alas the Pope, and the Dalai Lama, are otherwise engaged.

An election to replace Sepp Blatter is due in February
An election to replace Sepp Blatter is due in February ©Getty Images

So we seem stuck with the current contenders...

Apart from Prince Ali and possibly Platini we have the exotically-named Tokyo Sexwale, a 62-year-old South African mining tycoon who was imprisoned on Robben Island at the same time as Nelson Mandela. He was appointed by Blatter to mediate between the Israeli and Palestinian federations and was previously a member of FIFA's anti-discrimination committee.

He seems to have fair credentials, reminding us: “I walked side by side with one of the greatest leaders of mankind of all time, Nelson Mandela. Many people will be shocked that if you could never be a lackey of Mandela and you're his comrade, how can you be a lackey of Blatter?”

But as a key figure in South Africa's football World Cup bid he has admitted there might be some truth in a US claim that a bribe was paid to secure the 2010 World Cup tournament ahead of Morocco.

He calls the allegations "worrisome".

Then there is Jérôme Champagne, who is having a second stab at the job, a French diplomat who promises to “restore credibility” through transparent radical reform even though he was Blatter’s 2002 election campaign manager and confidant for 11 years.

Champagne doesn’t sparkle, though he does say he would like to see FIFA less formal, suggesting there is no need for officials to wear suits when they sit in the VIP box at football matches. ”Smart-casual would be fine.” Oh well, it is good to know he is a dedicated follower of fashion as well as football.

Switzerland’s Gianni Infantino, UEFA's general secretary, says he will stand if his boss Platini is unable to do so. He used to be close to Blatter but is obviously less so after the Platini affair.

Next up is Musa Bility. Who?

Liberia’s FA head since 2010, he denies he won his FA election by paying $500 (£325/€457) gifts to voters and says: “Football is facing a difficult moment, but it is in difficult moments that great leaders emerge.” One doubts he is among them.

Finally there is is the most contentious contender of all, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, of Bahrain.

As has been pointed out, even Blatter was never accused of being complicit in the torture of footballers, who were among those reported to be arrested when Bahrain cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in 2011.

Salman vehemently denies involvement, calling the allegations “false, nasty lies … some people have an agenda on their table”. Maybe, but mud sticks and all that... and he has been a long-time Blatter man.

He backed Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, but reckons he’ll “turn FIFA round really quickly”.

What world football needs is a shake-up. Not a sheikh-up there at the top.

David Dein has said that FIFA is
David Dein has said that FIFA is "beyond repair" ©Getty Images

And wouldn’t it be better for the next head honcho to come from a nation where the game is at least played at a reasonable international level. Bahrain scarcely qualifies. Nor does Liberia. Or, I suppose, Jordan.

Actually FIFA does not need reforming, it needs scrapping before a new regime takes over which might be even less credible than the old. What the game does not need is more of the same.

Such was the need for regime change over the past decade or more that it is surprising Tony Blair did not put boots on the ground in Switzerland after the disaster of England’s World Cup bid.

Blatter has since said it was a "done deal" for Russia to get the 2018 World Cup. If that’s the case it is fraud and the other candidates should get their money back and Blatter and his henchmen their just desserts.  

“We were royally ripped off,” declares Lord Triesman, who was the English FA chair at the time. ”There have been 45 years of corruption within FIFA. There are cleaner ways of running things but FIFA has systematically avoided them and plans to do so again. FIFA, I’m afraid, behaves like a mafia family. It has a decades-long tradition of bribes, bungs and corruption. Even its past president João Havelange has been removed from his honorary life presidency in his nineties.

“But changing a few people at the top won’t do the job.”

He is right, and so is David Dein, the former FA and Arsenal vice-chair who presided over the doomed 2018 bid.

“FIFA’s image is corrupt beyond repair,” he says. "It has to be be dissolved. There needs to be a clean start with a new untainted name.”

Let’s forget FIFA, an odious acronym synonymous with all that is odious in the once beautiful game.

For too long it has been more sleazeball than football.

FIFA should be dismantled, ditched and re-constituted as something like the World Football Association, under entirely new management and terms of reference.

And England’s FA, the oldest and once boldest in the world, should be leading the way. If they have the balls to kick off a revolution, there is little doubt others will follow.

Otherwise, as MacBeth’s witches intoned, it will be a case of "round about the cauldron go, In the poison'd entrails throw".

Update added November 8, 2015: Sheikh Salmans's lawyers Schillings have contacted insidethegames and asked we include the following paragraph, which we have acceded to by way of a right of reply. "The allegations are entirely false and categorically denied by Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. For the record, and in light of the recycling of historic allegations in the media, Sheikh Salman had absolutely no involvement in the identification, investigation, prosecution or mistreatment of any individuals as has been alleged.”