Gianni Infantino’s surprise victory over rival candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa was greeted by an optimistic sigh of relief in many quarters. Following a 10-month period in which a stream of corruption allegations and a large-scale criminal investigation has brought FIFA to its knees, Uefa’s general secretary was ultimately viewed as the man who could wipe the slate clean and offer a new, honest beginning.
Indeed, Infantino has managed to steer clear of scandal during his 16-year career at Uefa. The Swiss football administrator’s clean record, strong reputation and straightforward manner pushed him ahead in the final voting for the FIFA presidency on 26 February 2016, when he secured 115 votes against Sheikh Salman’s 88 votes.
Talking in Zurich, Switzerland after his landmark win, Infantino said: “I cannot express my feeling in this moment. I told you I went through an exceptional journey, which made me meet many fantastic people, who live and breathe football, and many people deserve to see FIFA highly respected. Everyone in the world will applaud us for what we will do.
“I want to work with you to establish a new era in which we can put football at the centre stage. We need to implement the reforms, but we also need to have respect, the respect that the entire world owes to football. And make sure that finally, once again, we can focus on this wonderful world that is football. I am too moved - let us work together for this.”
What will Infantino bring to FIFA? If the 45-page manifesto he produced ahead of the election is anything to go by, then the answer is ‘plenty’. The manifesto includes a great deal of detail and features all the expected themes. There are calls for transparency, good governance and – perhaps most importantly – support for the reforms designed to steer FIFA away from the murky waters of corruption, for which it became synonymous under Sepp Blatter.
It wouldn’t, however, be a manifesto for the future FIFA boss if it didn’t outline detailed plans on how the federation intends to share its considerable income – and there’s plenty to go around. FIFA’s revenues hit US$2.1bn (£1.5bn, €1.9bn) in 2014 following the World Cup in Brazil, a new record.
Infantino says at least half of that income should be pledged to football development projects for its member associations. Each confederation (CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC, AFC and UEFA) is set to receive a minimum of US$40m (£28m, €36.8m) over four years for football development, while at least US$5m (£3.5m, €4.6m) will be offered to each of its 209 members states.
“As a benchmark, and after all necessary adjustments, I believe that FIFA should easily be able to earmark at least 50 per cent of its income for direct distribution to its Member Associations for football development projects,” he stated.
“This translates into a very significant increase in the Financial Assistance Programme (FAP) and other development and solidarity programmes available for Member Associations and Confederations.”
Infantino acknowledges that his plans for absolute equality could result in a scenario where Montserrat – a FIFA member with a population of just 4,900 – would receive a sum equivalent to 10 per cent of its GDP. Therefore, he makes the point of highlighting a need for “tailor-made development programmes” for each member.
“For some, the top priority may be infrastructure, for others, it may be education programmes,” he says.
The manifesto also includes pledges of special assistance for infrastructure projects – national stadiums, technical centres, youth academies – and assistance for materials such as kits and balls. An exchange and internship programme for administrators, technical staff, youth, grassroots and women’s coaching, and referees has also been put forward to “promote cultural cohesion and understanding between footballing communities”.
Infantino has also promised to push for a 40-team World Cup – an initiative discussed by the FIFA Reform Committee last December. If successful, plans to expand the World Cup – heavily backed by African and Asian members of the FIFA executive committee – could become reality at the 2026 World Cup.