Gianni Infantino on a forced march: celebrating Wednesday his four years at the head of Fifa, reelected by acclamation last June, the leader believes he has a free hand to continue his projects. But it has to face a growing sling of the confederations.
World expanded from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, Club World Cup to 24 teams in 2021, doubling of aid paid to federations, reform of transfers ... Infantino (49) has not been unemployed since he took over February 26, 2016 in Sepp Blatter, in the middle of a corruption scandal.
"Infantino has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve, he is a man of projects," analyzes a regular at meetings at Fifa headquarters in Zurich.
"But sometimes his projects are extremely disruptive. In addition, he has a way of proceeding that is not unanimous because he advances by publicly testing his ideas," added the executive of world football.
Illustration with the project to see Qatar co-organize the Mondial-2022 with its neighbors despite a geopolitical conflict. "It was a false good idea, whereas in the 24-team club world championship, it rose in force despite opposition from UEFA," added the same specialist.
- Chess player -
Faced with the desire of private actors to take over major competitions and facing the growing influence of the richest clubs who want to redesign the Champions League for their profit, Infantino, like a chess player, advances his pawns, in a world where politics and egos often prevail over the best interests of sport.
And even if he was re-elected without opposition, he aroused mistrust by his projects, his lack of cooperation and transparency and his interventionism with the clubs.
It thus provoked the wrath of the President of UEFA, the Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin, and of his counterpart of the South American Confederation, the Paraguayan Alejandro Dominguez, who met officially in mid-February.
The African Confederation (CAF) and its Madagascan President Ahmad Ahmad, accused of lax financial management, have also just opposed the supervision of Fifa, by refusing to extend the mandate of Fatma Samoura, who has supervised CAF since six months.
"All shots are allowed, nobody makes gifts, relationships are strained," confirms Raffaele Poli, who heads the Football Observatory, at the International Center for the Study of Sport (CIES) in Neuchâtel.
- "Greed at all levels" -
"There is a greed at all levels of football, with this desire to make the most of money which seems to me to be the rationality of football at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. The appetites of the clubs are enormous. The federations and confederations which should be the guarantors are put under pressure by the single thought of money ", analyzes Mr. Poli.
For several observers, Infantino would drape itself in a bulwark role in the face of an "NBA-isation" of world football, namely a formatted sport, driven by closed and private leagues like the North American championships.
"Infantino's posture can help keep certain prerogatives for Fifa," explains Mr. Poli.
Example with the transfer system that Italo-Switzerland has continued to reform by increasing the compensation paid to training clubs. "If we were going towards an NBA model, it would be the end of the compensation paid between clubs, but we are rather going towards a reinforcement, which is a guarantee," analyzes the CIES researcher again.
But for another world football executive, Infantino's record is clear.
"It is a sham. Regarding governance, to grab power and circumvent reforms, he appointed a weak secretary general (Samoura, editor's note). By appointing a + director of independent commissions + (Italian Mario Gallavotti, editor's note), it completely removed the independence of the ethics committee which had nevertheless suspended its predecessor ", said this source.
"He also promised better control of the use of financial aid to confederations, but we see in Africa that these controls are less rigorous than before," added this familiar to authorities for whom there is the boss of Fifa "a form of autocracy whose confederations are tired".
Can his end of term be agitated? "Awarding the 2026 World Cup to the USA (plus Canada and Mexico) has brought a lull," said Mr. Poli. "And if his projects, like the Club World Cup, work, he will come out stronger."
© 2020 AFP