Liam Morgan

As the dust settled on a day of drama, Gianni Infantino sat down to conduct his first press conference as the new President of FIFA and admitted his surprise victory at the Extraordinary Congress hadn’t quite sunk in.

“I feel a lot of emotions and I have not yet probably realised what has happened,” he said.

But it had. The Swiss, UEFA’s general secretary since 2009, had managed to overcome the odds and win the election despite few giving him a chance of doing so.

FIFA’s electorate, however, saw it differently. After edging nearest rival Shaikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the favourite for almost the entirety of the race who may look back on what was a below-par campaign with some disdain, in the first round, the 207 Member Associations then decided Infantino was the man to lead the corruption-plagued governing body.

It still may not have sunk in for the 45-year-old from Brig, a stone’s throw away from the hometown of much-maligned predecessor Sepp Blatter, but it simply has to. And fast.

FIFA has been through too much, dragged through the mire by the previous regime to a point where sponsors have decided they don’t wish to affiliate themselves with the organisation and where its reputation lay in shatters, to dwell on the present or the past.

While it is our duty not to consign the actions of Blatter - who declared his fellow countryman had "all the qualities to continue my work" in a statement released after the result - and Michel Platini to the depths of our minds, it is the future that matters now.

Infantino, who ran an aggressive and at times incessant campaign, orchestrated by former London 2012 director of communications Mike Lee and his company Vero, will know that more than most and what lies ahead for FIFA must have been the first thought to cross his mind as soon as he was announced as the winner.

New FIFA President Gianni Infantino knows hard work lies ahead
New FIFA President Gianni Infantino knows hard work lies ahead ©Getty Images

The Swiss lawyer is all too aware it will be far from easy - to say his plate is already full is not inaccurate - with several hurdles already laid out in front of him. For a start, the appointment of the right secretary general is paramount.

Yet even this presents a difficult early challenge as there seems to be a distinct lack of an obvious candidate – the cynics among us will say that was also the case in the race for the Presidency itself – across the five confederations. Infantino reiterated his view that, as he was “the candidate of the world and not for Europe”, selecting a European sidekick is not in his plans.

At an event held at London’s Wembley Stadium earlier this month, he suggested he may look to Africa for his number two but it appears that the African vote during yesterday’s election held firm in their support for his main challenger for the top job, though we will never know for sure. With this in mind, is he really likely to look there for his secretary general? After all, he owes them nothing.

A body which Infantino may feel subconsciously indebted to is the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football as, if their African counterparts on the whole stuck with Salman, they must surely have provided the Swiss with the vital votes he needed to get over the line in round two.

FIFA Executive Committee member and head of the United States Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati was clearly lobbying and whipping votes for Infantino during yesterday’s seemingly interminable proceedings and, while the next second-in-command at world football’s governing body may not be him, you can bet your bottom dollar he will be demanding something in return behind the scenes.

CONMEBOL, the South American Football Confederation, may also be queuing up for reparations from Infantino as it appears they also stuck to the script and backed the Swiss, contrary to reports that a couple of their Member Associations were weighing up a last-minute defection to the Salman cause.

Jérôme Champagne was fiercely critical of Gianni Infantino's financial promises, labelling them as dangerous
Jérôme Champagne was fiercely critical of Gianni Infantino's financial promises, labelling them as dangerous ©Getty Images

Forget payback, though. This is about Infantino using his intelligence – something he was all too keen to display during his speech in front of the Congress before the vote which was doused with what seemed like umpteen different languages – by selecting the person with the right business and leadership credentials, no matter which part of the globe they happen to hail from.

It is not only the appointment of a suitable number two that must be causing the 45-year-old an early headache, however, as he must also wrestle with the fact that some of his main pledges in his manifesto have been attacked and questioned by the other candidates as well as those within the FIFA electorate.

Yes, the “money of FIFA is your money” line in his speech was impressive, but now he must back that up with concrete actions or risk a deserved hounding from those who put him where he currently stands.

Frenchman Jérôme Champagne labelled Infantino’s vow to increase the amount of funding given to the 209 Member Associations by $5 million (£3.5 million/€4.5 million) per year as “dangerous” for the future of the game, and it is fair to say that he may struggle to win doubters over with that particular promise.

His proposed expansion of the World Cup, FIFA’s money-spinning flagship quadrennial tournament, from 32 to 40 teams has also attracted opposition from not just Champagne, but also the European Club Association (ECA) - often a key ally of Infantino - who used their congratulatory statement to both praise and warn the Swiss in equal measure.

The proposed expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams has also attracted criticism
The proposed expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams has also attracted criticism ©Getty Images

“The European Club Association congratulates Gianni Infantino on his election as FIFA President,” the statement from the body, which has 220 members from 53 associations, read.

“ECA knows Gianni Infantino well through his previous role as UEFA General Secretary and takes the opportunity to thank him once again for the constructive and reform-oriented cooperation in recent years.

“We also expect to cooperate with him as FIFA President in a transparent, democratic and fruitful manner for the benefit of football. As an important football stakeholder, ECA has the ambition of shaping the future of football together with FIFA through direct inclusion in the decision-making process on all issues affecting the professional game.

“In this context, ECA reiterates its opposition to an expansion of the FIFA World Cup from 32 to 40 teams.”

Of course, we must take any pledge made in an election campaign with a pinch of salt. After all, they are frequently used as purely persuasive mechanisms which often yield no discernible results. With this in mind, we may, thankfully, never see the day where 40 nations are brought together for a World Cup.

The competition itself will give Infantino enough work to last a lifetime as he will be tasked with beginning the bid process for the 2026 tournament - suspended in the wake of the ongoing investigations into the 2018 and 2022 races - while ensuring it is conducted in a transparent and just manner, unlike many which have gone before.

Gianni Infantino takes over from countryman Sepp Blatter as the head of world football's governing body
Gianni Infantino takes over from countryman Sepp Blatter as the head of world football's governing body ©Getty Images

If he is able to combat such criticisms, he may also go some way to dispelling the feeling that he simply isn’t cut out for the job of FIFA President. His political credentials remain unknown and unlike Blatter, who worked within world football’s governing body for many years before taking charge, he has very little knowledge of the ins and outs of the organisation.

A lack of experience, the apparent refusal to denounce the previous leadership and his allegiance with Platini invokes concern. His likeness to Blatter - in stature, nationality and even the pledge of financial assistance to Member Associations - may also go against him. It is his job to ensure those are the only similarities to the banned former President.

Despite being the best of a bad bunch, he should be given fair opportunity to prove he is capable of restoring the once valuable reputation of FIFA.

The hard work is just getting started.