Football's 20 Most Influential People

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 3, 2013

Football's 20 Most Influential People

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    Football is more than just a game. It is a global business in which money, power and politics are juggled by a few key figures who ensure that the proverbial wheels keep turning.

    So, who are the most important men who organise, profit from and participate in the beautiful game?

    Bleacher Report has compiled a list of world football's 20 most influential people... 

20. Pini Zahavi

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    In this game, it's not what you know, it's who you know. Some of the best connected people—and the men who essentially decide the fate of the world's biggest players—are the agents.

    Pini Zahavi is one of the most prominent figures in an elite band of "super agents." The 70-year-old Israeli started out as a journalist, but as his contacts list grew, he moved into transfer dealings.

    He handled Rio Ferdinand's move from West Ham to Leeds and subsequent record deal with Manchester Utd in 2002. As a close ally of Sir Alex Ferguson, he brokered many of the Red Devils' deals in the following years.  

    Zahavi also helped Roman Abramovich purchase Chelsea and facilitated Alexandre Gaydamak's purchase of Portsmouth in 2006. As a man who has been involved in the sale of players and clubs, Zahavi is a rare commodity.

    The Israeli also helped herald the controversial—and increasingly frequent—practise of third-party ownership, when he played his part in Carlos Tevez's move from Argentina. 

19. Mario Balotelli

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    It's hard to believe that a man who is flummoxed by a bib can hold power and influence in the global game, but that is the view of Time Magazine, who deemed the Italian striker as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2013.

    He was the only footballer named on the list, and one of only four athletes.

    As an extremely talented footballer with a penchant for sublime and ridiculous antics on and off the field, Balotelli is certainly one of the biggest characters in the game.

    For the 23-year-old, football is a stage. Clubs, fans and media from all over the world are continually captivated by his act.

    Balotelli may also hold influence in terms of fighting racism, as his defiant stance during Euro 2012 and comments about walking off the pitch have shaped the behaviour of other players and fans.  

18. Lennart Johansson

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    Lennart Johansson was elected as UEFA's fifth president in 1990, a position he held until 2007 when Michel Platini took the helm. 

    The Swede technically no longer holds executive power as he is merely an honorary UEFA president, but he still has the ear—and respect—of some of the game's most powerful figures.

    The trophy of the brand-new UEFA Youth League is named in his honour.  

    Johansson's impact on the modern game is very significant as he is credited with transforming the European Cup into the Champions League format in the early 1990s. 

17. Eugenio Figueredo

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    Between 1997 and 2006, Eugenio Figueredo was president of the Uruguayan Football Association, a role he carried out concurrently with his position as vice president of the South American confederation COMNEBOL.

    In 2013, the former Uruguayan footballer was promoted to president of CONMEBOL, taking the place of Paraguayan executive Nicolas Leoz.

    The observant will note that Figueredo's confederation is hosting a World Cup next summer, which is where his influence comes in.

    He is president of the Brazil 2014 Organising Committee, giving him a great deal of responsibility in shaping one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. 

16. Henry Winter

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    Like it or not, but the opinions and arguments of football journalists inform everyone's view of the game.

    As the main voice piece and source of commentary for the game, the media is extremely influential. This is particularly true in the area of transfers, with players and agents often manipulating the press to engineer moves.

    Even when journalists get it wrong—like when The Times' Oliver Kay was misled by a source concerning a fictitious Qatari Dream League—it still alters the general public's perception of the game.

    If one prominent football writer should be included on this list, it should probably be Henry Winter, who is considered one of the top sports journalists in the UK and Europe.

    Winter has been writing for The Telegraph since 1994, in which time he has earned the respect of readers, his peers and those involved in the game.

15. Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein

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    The emergence of Qatar as a World Cup nation was helped in no small part by the rise of the West Asian Football Federation and its founder, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein.

    The son of the late King Hussein of Jordan is also president of the Jordanian Football Association, but his most significant role is that of FIFA vice president. He was elected as Sepp Blatter's deputy in 2011, and at 35 years of age, was by far the youngest FIFA executive.  

    The Telegraph cited him as the man to restore FIFA's credibility in 2012, with his youth and exuberance thought to be a catalyst for change in an organisation blighted by corruption allegations. 

    As the 2022 World Cup draws closer, expect Al-Hussein's influence to rise. And don't be surprised if he makes a play for the role of FIFA president in 2015. 

14. Leo Messi

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    With four consecutive World Player of the Year gongs and in record-breaking form with Barcelona, Leo Messi is undoubtedly the best player in the world right now—and possibly one of the best of all time.

    But is the diminutive and famously shy Argentinian actually influential? According to Time Magazine, he is.

    Messi was deemed one of the World's 100 Most Influential People in 2012, and with a name that is synonymous with footballing excellence all over the planet, it is hard to disagree. 

    This year Messi was also voted one of the world's 100 most powerful celebrities by Forbes Magazine. If he leads Argentina to World Cup success in Brazil next summer, his power will become truly apparent. 

13. Wolfgang Niersbach

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    Wolfgang Niersbach is the most powerful man in German football. Since March 2012, the former sports journalist has been president of the German Football Association (DFB), putting him in charge of the Bundesliga, the 2. Bundesliga and the regionalised state divisions of the third tier and beyond. 

    After a successful stint as executive vice president and chief press officer of the Organising Committee for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Niersbach ascended to the role of DFB general secretary.

    In 2011, he was awarded the German Order of Merit, for showing that "the DFB is not only a football association but also a strong component of society." (Quote via uefa.com)

    The best-paid football executive in Germany now wishes to focus on youth development, racism, discrimination, corruption and violence in the game. 

12. Kia Joorabchian

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    Kia Joorabchian is often bandied together with the world's biggest "super agents," but in reality, he is not actually a licensed agent at all.

    The Iranian is a "fixer" of sorts, whose business primarily involves advising players and clubs of their rights in contract negotiations.

    That isn't to say that Joorabchian isn't a huge player in world football. According to The Mirror, he received nearly 25 percent of the £180 million spent on foreign talent by Premier League clubs in 2009.  

    Through his company Media Sports Investments, Joorabchian also owns the economic rights to dozens of players from Europe and South America.

    Recently, he guided Willian towards Chelsea, but he made headlines in 2006 with the controversial transfer of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano from Corinthians to West Ham.

    His third-party ownership dealings are often assisted by the aforementioned "super agent" Pini Zahavi.   

11. Issa Hayatou

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    In March 2013, Issa Hayatou was re-elected as president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for the sixth time.

    He has held the highest position in African football since 1988, often running unopposed during elections. 

    During his reign, the African domestic game has expanded significantly, the Africa Cup of Nations has doubled in size and he successfully pushed for the amount of African qualification places at the World Cup to be increased from two in 1990 to five in 2006.

    In fact, South Africa were handed the sixth place as automatic qualifiers to the 2010 World Cup, after Hayatou's successful bid to bring the first World Cup to the continent.

    In 2011, Hayatou was accused of receiving bribes to vote for Qatar's World Cup bid. Regardless of whether the allegations are true, they show the importance that the 67-year-old holds in the game.

10. Javier Tebas

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    In 2013, Costa Rican-born lawyer Javier Tebas was appointed president of the LFP, the governing body repsonsible for the Spanish Primera and Segunda Division.

    As the man in charge of the league that features two of the world's biggest teams—Barcelona and Real Madrid—Tebas is thought to be one of the most powerful men in European football, with his political weight eclipsing that of Spanish FA president Angel Maria Villar.

    One of Tebas' most important agendas has been the investigation of match-fixing claims within Spanish football.

    He aims to "clean up" the game in Spain, while also addressing the issue of the financial disparity between the two biggest sides and the rest of the league. 

9. Barney Francis

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    Due to the manner in which it presents the game and the omniscient coverage they have provided over the last 20 years, folks often joke that Sky "invented" football in 1992.

    At the risk of sounding glib, it's not too far from the truth.

    The Premier League was formed in 1992 when the First Division agreed to break away from the Football League to take advantage of lucrative broadcasting deals. Those deals were tabled by Sky, whose funding helped transfer the English top tier into a behemoth that's now loved by millions by people who have never even visited the British Isles. 

    Barney Francis is the current chief executive of Sky Sports, which gives him a significant say in the fixture list, the decision over which teams get television exposure and—most importantly—the cash with which teams can operate. 

    Sky Sports have had competition from Setanta, ESPN and now BT Sports, but they remain the most important player in the financial structure of the world's most popular league. 

8. David Beckham

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    He is one of the most famous people on the planet, his net worth dwarfs most other people in the game and he has a vastly populated trophy cabinet.

    If you don't know who David Beckham is, perhaps this list isn't for you.

    Becks may not be regarded as one of the all-time great players in terms of skill, but no one has increased the popularity of the sport quite like him in the past few decades.

    After acquiring a popstar wife and dizzying levels of celebrity, Beckham moved to the USA in 2007, where he spent five years helping MLS to reach a wider audience. 

    In the latter stages of his career and retirement, Beckham has assumed many ambassadorial roles. Currently, he is helping to develop Chinese football, and in the run-up to the London Olympics, he threw his full support behind the Games.

    He didn't even feature in the football competition, but he carried the Olympic torch along the Thames in the opening ceremony, thus showing his global significance.  

    When Beckham is involved in a football project, its chances of success automatically increase by his mere presence. 

7. Sir Dave Richards

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    Not only is Sir Dave Richards the chairman of the Premier League, but he is also the chairmen of the FA's international committee, a member of the FA's board, chairman of UEFA's Professional Football Committee and president of the European Professional Football Leagues organisation.

    Evidently, you don't get a knighthood for services to sport without wielding a significant amount of power.

    Richards is often criticised for his leadership (several of the companies of which he was director went into receivership; Sheffield Wednesday's financial decline began when he was chairman) and for the conflict of interest that his division of powers represents ("Does the Premier League hurt the national side? I think the answer has to be yes," he declared in 2008, wearing his FA hat while apparently throwing his Premier League one on the hat rack). 

    However, his power within the FA, the Premier League and Europe merely acts to increase his considerable sphere of influence. 

6. Mino Raiola

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    Few agents in the modern game have had more high-profile clients than Mino Raiola. The Italian has been making financial power plays since 1988, when he helped broker the transfer of Frank Rijkaard from Milan to Sporting Lisbon.

    Today, his clients include Mario Balotelli, Marek Hamsik, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Since 2004, he has helped the Swede generate more than €100 million in transfer fees, including the €46 million deal that brought the striker from Barcelona to Internazionale in 2009.

    As one of the more successful "Mr 15 percents," once can imagine Raiola has done pretty well from his dealings.  

5. Jorge Mendes

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    Jorge Mendes has been a DJ, a nightclub owner and semi-pro player, but the Portuguese entrepreneur has cut his reputation in the beautiful game as the most powerful man on the Iberian peninsula.

    The 47-year-old starting brokering deals for Portuguese players in the mid-1990s, and has gradually built up a portfolio that now includes Radamel Falcao, Victor Valdes, Diego Costa and Nani.

    His presence is most significant at Real Madrid, where he represents Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Angel Di Maria and former manager Jose Mourinho. It is highly unusual for one man to hold such influence over a single team without being an employee.

    As a man responsible for the comings and goings of some of the world's biggest players, Mendes holds significant influence on the highest level of the game. 

    Thanks to his high-profile wrangling, he can effectively live the life of a professional football star without kicking a ball.

    When Cristiano Ronaldo made his world-record move to Real Madrid in 2009, for example, the agent took a 5 percent cut on the transfer fee: a cool £4 million.

4. The Qatar Royal Family

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    For a tiny Arab state with a population of less than two million and very little football heritage, Qatar has an awful lot of power in the global game.

    Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the son of the ruling Emir, was the chairman of the successful and highly controversial 2022 World Cup bid.

    In 2012, the Qatar Investment Authority—the gulf state's sovereign wealth fund—bankrolled the buyout of Paris Saint-Germain. The club's president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is also the director of Al Jazeera Sports (which shows the Premier League in Asia) and beIN Sports (which broadcasts the European game in France, the USA and Indonesia). 

    In Spain, meanwhile, the Qatari rulers have funded a €170 million shirt sponsorship deal with Barcelona. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani—or Sheikh Abdullah for short—purchased Malaga in 2010, although he appeared almost immediately to neglect it.

3. Richard Scudamore

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    In most countries, the football association is responsible for running the top division. Not so in England, where the Premier League operates as its own autonomous unit, striking commercial deals that have turned it into the biggest and most profitable domestic league in the world. 

    The man pulling the Premiership strings is Richard Scudamore, who has been CEO since 1999. The former marketing and advertising executive is in charge of negotiating global sponsorship and broadcasting rights worth in excess of £3.5 billion.

    For his high-pressure role, the Premier League pays him upwards of £800,000 a year, according to The Independent

    As the gate-keeper of the world's most-viewed league, Scudamore is a very powerful figure.

    If he wants the league to play a 39th game abroad, he will eventually make it happen.

    If he wants the 2022 World Cup to be moved away from Qatar, his will be one of the loudest voices.  

2. Michel Platini

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    During his spell with Juventus, Michel Platini became one of the greatest players of all time, picking up the Ballon d'Or and World Player of the Year awards as he marched the Old Lady towards European triumph.

    Since retirement, however, the Frenchman has had an even greater impact on the game as the president of the biggest of the six continental football confederations, UEFA. 

    The 58-year-old took charge of UEFA in 2006, having been a member of the executive committee since 1998.

    During his reign, he has championed the use of home-grown players (although his 6+5 idea was scrapped) and unsuccessfully opposed goal-line technology, but his persistent efforts to curb inflated spending have resulted in the Financial Fairplay Regulations.

    It is thought that Platini will challenge Sepp Blatter for the role of FIFA president after the 2014 World Cup. 

1. Sepp Blatter

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    As the man at the top of the football food chain, FIFA president Sepp Blatter is considered the most powerful man in football.

    The Swiss executive was elected to the role in June 1998, and has survived three election campaigns. His staying power is tremendously impressive in light of numerous accusations of corruption, racism, sexism, homophobia and a general dimwitted countenance. 

    Regardless, Blatter presides over an organisation with 209 members, technically giving him more reach than the United Nations. His mandates affect everything from rule changes to the host nation of the World Cup. 

    Of course, Blatter does not have carte blanche to change the game. It is worth noting that he cannot fire any of the executives below him, and those executives are answerable to their own associations, rather than the 77-year-old.    

    However, as the man atop the FIFA pile, Blatter is regarded by some as the most powerful man in world sports.

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