Why Luis Figo Is Ideal Challenger to Sepp Blatter as FIFA President

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2015

NYON, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 11:  Ambassador for the final Luis Figo looks on during the UEFA Champions League 2013/14 season semi-finals draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football, on April 11, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images for UEFA)
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

On Wednesday, CNN exclusively revealed that former Real Madrid and Barcelona winger Luis Figo plans to stand for the role of FIFA president, as the numbers of opposition to Sepp Blatter winning another term in office continued to grow.

Following the likes of Prince Ali, David Ginola and Michael van Praag all announcing lately that they would also challenge Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term as FIFA president, Figo must now be noted as perhaps the most credible and ideal challenger to the current incumbent.

There may be a long way to go before he emerges as a genuine threat to Blatter, but it is certainly more evidence that the footballing world as a whole has grown fed up with the image and the soundbites offered by Blatter and his FIFA organisation.

Reputation and Standing

First and foremost, it is the public perception of a wide range of football fans that FIFA is increasingly detached, self-serving, misguided and corrupt.

From imposing bigger fines for breaching sponsorship regulations than for alleged racism, to ignoring wider socio-economic factors when planning major tournaments, most football corporations now seem to come under the umbrella of this basic fan's outlook—but FIFA takes the brunt.

Rightly so, given it is the world's governing body of the game.

Figo, initially from his work as a player and more recently as an ambassador for various clubs and organisations, is largely removed from that image—so far at least.

He possesses two important traits: credibility and purpose. Whoever takes on Blatter in the late stages of the presidential race will need enormous amounts of both.

I'm delighted to announce my candidacy for the FIFA Presidency. Football has given me so much during my life & I want to give something back

— Luís Figo (@LuisFigo) January 28, 2015

I thank the Associations that have shown their support and I look forward to explaining in detail my programme and my vision for football

— Luís Figo (@LuisFigo) January 28, 2015

Change comes slowly in the football world, and many nations will likely go along with what they know, rather than risk upheaval.

Serious Candidate

Michael van Praag, Head of the KNVB (Dutch football federation), can be considered a fairly serious and credible character to challenge Blatter, having held an important position, being well-known in European football circles and speaking out recently against Blatter. However, it appears a slightly reluctant, oh-well-if-nobody-else-will-I-will statement of intent on his part.

Ginola's candidacy may be well-meaning, but the way he has gone about publicising it does not sit well as a serious threat at this point.

Poor Ginola, now he's not even the best winger in the FIFA race.

— Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) January 28, 2015

It is Figo, with his background at UEFA and as a famed, recognisable figure throughout the footballing world—both in kit or in a suit—who both looks and sounds the part.

MILAN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Luis Figo poses with the UEFA Champions League trophy during the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour 2012/13 on September 13, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images for UEFA)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

He is old enough to have plenty of experience in the business side of the game and to know the needs of federations who must vote him in, but is also young enough to be considered "worthwhile." As in, it's not going from a mid-70s-aged president to a mid-60s one, where the generation gap in the modern world may not be realistically big enough to bring about the change needed.

Figo's early words indicate an appreciation for the role and an understanding that he will have lots to learn, but also that he knows where improvement needs to be made. Speaking of his words, it won't harm his chances that he can communicate perfectly with a vast portion of the entire planet—being fluent in Spanish and English, as well as his native Portuguese.

Standing for Change

Figo referred to the non-publishing of the Michael Garcia report as the moment when he decided to stand.

After that report was not published I think that was the moment of change and the moment I thought that something had to be done. 

If you are transparent and if you ask for an investigation, a report, which you have nothing to hide, why don't you make public that report? If you have nothing to hide about that, you have to do it. 

[Publishing the report] is the easy thing to do if all the people is doubting what happened. If it came from FIFA to order that report and after that you don't publish, it is not a good decision.

It's not the only issue with FIFA of late, but disclosure, corruption and inner-circle protecting have been common themes in talks, both informal and formal, in the football world of late.

The former winger also spoke about distributing the massive financial reserves of FIFA to whom he felt it really belonged to, the federations, and intimated that he has the support of the minimum five nations he needs to be eligible for election.

Figo receiving the FIFA World Player of the Year award, with Blatter in attendance, in 2001
Figo receiving the FIFA World Player of the Year award, with Blatter in attendance, in 2001MICHELE LIMINA/Associated Press/Associated Press

This is a figure in the game who has been at the top, won almost everything going and has since glided into office roles within the sport with all the ease of adaptation he showed when switching between the top biggest clubs in Spain.

He has no particular reason to run for office unless he is serious about his intentions—his offhand (though planned, doubtless) comment about not getting paid for running shows that this is something he is doing because he believes in the need for it.

Just a few days ago, Blatter said that UEFA "lacked courage" to put forward a credible candidate of their own to oppose him. In Figo, he might just have provoked the ire of the exact man who could finally displace him.

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