An Open Letter To The FIFA Presidency Challengers

Subject: An Open Letter To The FIFA Presidency Challengers
From: Gabriele Marcotti
Date: 5 Feb 2015

Dear Luis, Michael and Prince (or can I call you Ali?): so you've taken on this challenge and you're drawing up your plans for how you're going to achieve the (near) impossible. May the best man win. In the meantime, here's some unsolicited advice.

1. Corruption

Forget that word. Or, at least, use it very selectively. Because we've heard it all before: Michael Garcia, the Sunday Times inquiry, criminal investigations in the U.S. ... And guess what? It hasn't moved the needle. All it does is further anger the people who are already against Sepp Blatter for things that happened on his watch, while stiffening the resolve of the Blatter loyalists. Those in the middle? Well, they really don't care.

In 1998, four FIFA vice-presidents and none other than Pele backed Blatter's rival, Lennart Johansson.

They lost.

In 2002, five of the seven FIFA vice-presidents coalesced around the anti-Blatter candidate, with the backing of his own general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, who had a 21-page dossier detailing a range of accusations against FIFA.

They lost too.

It's not a vote-getter. Sure, campaign for reform and transparency and honesty. All that isn't just important, it's necessary. But you need to bring something more to the table.

2. Accountability

Remember why you're there. With the support of UEFA president Michel Platini, you got five different FAs to nominate you.

Ali, you may be the exception as you got support from two non-UEFA federations. But before you pat yourself on the back a little too hard, remember that one was your own FA, Jordan (the other was the United States).

Don't assume that these guys endorsed you because they think you'd make a better FIFA president than Blatter. It could well be a case of the ABS's: Anyone But Sepp. Or, as Platini said last year while explaining why he wasn't going to run against Blatter: "The people who really liked me wanted me to stay at UEFA, the people who really disliked Blatter wanted me to run for FIFA president."

What this means is that you owe your place in this race largely to anti-Blatter sentiment. The three of you will have to get together at some point, ideally just before the election, and figure out who has the best chance to win. Then the other two will have to drop out.

Blatter's edge is so big that splitting the vote would be simply idiotic. Work together to unseat the incumbent. It's what those who put you in the race want you to do.

3. Never forget who the voters are and what matters to them

This is not a popular election among the world's billions of fans. They don't get to vote. Two hundred and nine FAs vote. Nobody else. So bear that in mind when you give your speeches and interviews. It's not about "average Joes" or "hearts and minds." It's about decision-makers at federations.

It stands to reason that most FAs will make their decision based either on what's best for football in their country or for what's best for whoever runs the local FA. With both types of administrators, it's going to be an uphill battle.

There's not much you can do with the "corruptible" guys, unless you're willing to cross the line. It's not something I'd recommend, mainly because it's unethical and illegal, but also because those who challenged Blatter and were found to have done things they shouldn't have didn't end up well (ask Jack Warner and Mohammed bin Hammam).

So your challenge is to persuade FA chiefs who do want what's best. But -- careful here -- it's not necessarily what's best for football, it's what's best for their own local patch. That's how they maintain power: they keep their stakeholders happy. That's how Blatter gained, and maintained, power.

On the one hand, Blatter grew FIFA's revenues exponentially. On the other, he made sure that money got channeled back to local FAs via development grants and FIFA's "Goal Programme," no matter how small or how bad their national team might have been. It sounds like a no-brainer now but, before his ascent, FIFA was run as a virtual closed shop by Europe and South America.

There were six presidents before Blatter's predecessor (and, in some ways, mentor), Joao Havelange. All of them were white European males from colonial powers. Sir Stanley Rous, who governed FIFA until 1974, campaigned to keep apartheid-era South Africa in FIFA at a time when that country effectively had two FAs (one for whites, one for everybody else).

It's not surprising then that many saw -- and still see -- Blatter as a sort of anti-Rous, a powerful man willing to embrace the lesser nations. Many of these FAs care less about transparency (possibly because there isn't much in their own countries) or whether there was malfeasance in bidding for the 2022 World Cup (possibly because they don't have an ice cube's chance in Doha of qualifying) and more about making sure FIFA sends them their share of development funds so they can actually build a few pitches and buy some equipment for their national team.

There's no escaping this: Blatter grew the pot and shared the pot. And it's not just about money, it's also about women's football, youth football, giving African and Asian nations more World Cup places and even stuff like promoting futsal, all of which have taken place on his presidential watch.

You need to convince the voters that you care about the little FAs as much as Blatter and that you'll do a better job than he does at ensuring they're not forgotten. You need to sell them on the fact that you care about the game in their countries and that you won't just keep the pipeline of development funds open, you'll expand it.

4. Tailor your approach

In countries where public opinion matters to the FA, use the media to hold leaders accountable. Make the FA chiefs commit early and often to not backing Blatter. If they don't, find a way to force them to explain to football fans in their country why they're doing it.

If it means showing up with a camera outside the home of whoever runs the FA of Canada or Japan (not picking on them, just mentioning examples of democracies with a free press) and forcing the guy to explain who he's going to vote for and why, so be it.

On the other hand, a lot of the smaller federations, and the less wealthy ones, do whatever the head of their continental confederation tells them to do. Ali, you know something about this: you're a FIFA vice-president representing the Asian Football Confederation, except not a single Asian FA, except for the one you run, endorsed you.

Why? Because the AFC as a whole is officially backing Blatter. It doesn't mean everyone will vote for him, but a healthy number of Asian FAs will do whatever AFC president Salman Al Khalifa tells them to do. So work on the heads of the confederations.

The truth -- and Ali, you alluded to this on Tuesday when you talked about "intimidation" -- is that you don't want to be, say, the lone African FA who breaks rank with the head of your confederation. That's because, in reality, you do far more business with your local confederation than you do with FIFA.

5. Be prepared to answer tough -- and personal -- questions

Luis, you come from Portugal, the land of super-agent Jorge Mendes and third-party ownership, the practice by which the economic rights of players are held by, for example, individuals or businesses, and you walked out on Barcelona to join Real Madrid. The FIFA ExCo has pledged to ban TPO, but how do you prove that you are loyal, principled and strong enough to ensure that it disappears once and for all?

Michael, you're 67 years old and a millionaire. You were the president of Ajax and so was your dad. How do you show people you're not just another old, rich, privileged white European neo-colonial male?

Ali, you're 39. Have you ever achieved anything that isn't a direct result of your dad being king of Jordan? Whether it's being head of "Special Security" in the Royal Guards, president of the Jordanian FA, chairman of Jordan's Royal Film Commission or getting the FIFA ExCo gig, would any of this have happened if your dad had been an average Joe?

I'm not being mean. It's going to get dirty, and you guys need to be prepared. I'm sure you can answer all these questions in a persuasive way. You'll need to do that. And you'll need to persuade the world you're not just puppets in Platini's proxy crusade to remove Blatter.

Yours sincerely,