It must have been painful for FIFA President Gianni Infantino, to have to report to work at UEFA daily and walk in the shadow of a legitimate footballing giant, his boss and President, Michel Platini.
Everywhere they went together, it irked him to no end, the instant recognition and adoration that Platini got around the World, the natural deference granted to him on football matters by virtually everyone.
Platini played football at the highest levels, featuring for clubs Nancy, St. Etienne and Juventus. He was nicknamed “Le Roi” (The King) for his on and off-field abilities and leadership.
In the early to mid-80s, Platini was the heart and soul of the French National Team (Les Bleus) which won the 1984 European Championships and was a key player in the teams that reached the Semi-finals of the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups.
He held goal-scoring records which were only broken as late as 2007 and he won the Ballon d’Or three consecutive years in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Most importantly, Platini served 4 years as the Head Coach of the French football National team – Les Bleus.
He was a co-organizer of the highly successful 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and ultimately served 8 solid years as UEFA President and FIFA Vice-President from 2007 until his ignominious resignation in 2016.
This was a man who had the name “FIFA President” imprinted on his forehead and it was possible that he would have been able to come from the FIFA Ethics sanction and re-bound straight in the FIFA Presidency.
Anyone with half a brain would concede that there was no one better-rounded football-wise, more grounded and more networked, who was already within the proximity of the FIFA Presidency than Platini.
We can even wager our last dime that his support roots would emanate from places like the Élysée Palace, where we often see the aficionados of World football make regular pilgrimages to meet the holder of the position.
Human nature is linear, so psychologists tell us, Infantino loves football just like hundreds of millions of other people around the globe. Some of them have never played it to any degree, all through their lives, but love it nonetheless for other reasons (e.g sharing of beers; the never old-fashioned competitiveness between fans or even simply for the sheer beauty of the game). Others however, enjoyed it on the pitches.
Whoever has had the privilege of playing football as a child almost always identified himself with players and most even had posters of their football idols on the walls of their bedrooms, perhaps dreaming to someday emulate them.
Many kids around the World would have scrapbooks of these heroes, with cutouts from newspapers and magazines.
Did Infantino have posters on his walls as a kid? If he did, did he remove them eventually? Did he ever dream of becoming one of them while he was playing on Sundays in the villages of his native Canton and in the process getting blushing compliments from nubile young ladies who, apart from church services, had no alternative activity than to go and watch footballers slug it out?
We can infer a lot from his frenzied efforts to organize games with players of his generation immediately he was elected, they even allowed him to score some goals. The feelings might not have been exactly the same as during his childhood, but in the end, Infantino can now claim to have played with Svetchenko, Albertini, Hierro, Salguado, Deco, Boban, Seedorf in the same field (just to mention a few of those present for his first game?
Our UEFA insiders tell us that they began to notice this distortion of reality from the time that Infantino was at the Nyon-based organization.
You can imagine how triggered his feelings were, when these out-of-this-World characters came to life, for instance, during the UEFA draws. To have World champions and such important people by your side and to share a magnificent dinner with them, paid for by your organization and with time, it would appear, Infantino even begun to see himself as one of them.
Infantino had joined UEFA as a mere ordinary Lawyer but climbed the ladder within the organization thanks in large part due to Platini.
By shadowing the “King”, Infantino was able to accompany him to meetings of Confederations and was even designated to distribute the very valuable invitations for the UEFA Champions League finals.
Even though football federation presidents nowadays attend a yearly average of three international/continental competitions, the Champion’s League final is a must and reachable only by invitation, not like the World Cup final where all football presidents are always present ( plus two guests) because of the simultaneous holding of the FIFA Congress.
Our UEFA source was unable to confirm whether UEFA has also been taking charge of Federation presidents’ guests (wives, children or mistresses) and paying their daily allowances too.
So how was Infantino to overcome the legendary status of Platini and the political capital that he had built himself over the 8 years as UEFA President?
FIFA and UEFA insiders believe that Infantino used Platini as the Trojan horse to bring himself to the FIFA Presidency.
In Africa, Infantino was most probably involved in the first breach of power of then CAF President Issa Hayatou when Ahmad somehow weaseled his way into the CAF Executive Committee, much to the detriment of South African Dr. Danny Jordan, a situation that forced CAF to create afterwards a new zone to accommodate him.
Infantino knew that to take down a giant of the stature of Platini, he needed to sink his reputation and urinate on his hard-earned legendary status in the process.
How much better than to accuse “the King” of the pedestrian theft of money, and equate him to just about any FIFA street-thug as had been exposed by the US DoJ in the 2015 FIFA-gate scandal?
It was a confluence of factors that rode on the indignation and enormity of just how much the members of the FIFA Executive committee had brazenly stolen FIFA funds or sought to trade World Cup hosting rights for personal financial gain over the years.
All it took was an anonymous tip about some $ 2 million payment from FIFA to Platini, and (as Infantino had anticipated) the Ethics committee went into over-drive, determined to make an example and hopefully redeem FIFA from the shame of its dubious past.
Slapped with an initial 8-year ban, Platini resigned from UEFA in 2016, paving the way for Infantino to ascend to the vacant FIFA throne.
Infantino took advantage of what had been done and got even more support by promising four times more money for the federations, meaning a seasonal stream would now became a river with football federation presidents as captains of boats now gliding on waves of FIFA coins and banknotes.
Not that Infantino won only thanks to Africa and we all know that the one of the first links of humanity has been money and that African football federation Presidents are seriously preoccupied with it.
You just need to take a look at the Caribbean Islands to understand the distortion of the FIFA grants and in turn, this outright purchase of votes. Can you imagine Anguilla and all its 17,000 people or the British Virgin Islands and its 30,000 people but who get at least $ 6 million from FIFA per cycle, same as China, Russia, US, Canada, India, Australia…?
Now imagine that there are 25 members of the Caribbean football Union (CFU) then you begin to understand why Infantino has been giving these FIFA members an inappropriate level of attention.
For instance, just 2 months ago Infantino through his lapdog Veron Mosengo-Omba, disbanded a duly elected executive in Trinidad and Tobago, and replaced it with a handpicked Normalization committee, for the simple reason that the new executive committee had begun an audit in which close to $3 million had been lost by the previous administration of Infantino praise-singers and bootlickers.
But alas, we digress…
In the first few months of the Infantino kakistocracy, FIFA insiders started to notice something odd, that Infantino loved to surround himself with people who felt no compunction falling onto their knees, literally worshiping him as their new king.
They also realized the presence of a lot of ex-footballers that could be seen either playing football with him or being paraded onto the stage during FIFA Congresses with these parade sessions lasting much longer than the sessions on financial reporting.
It was surmised by insiders that the presence of these so-called legendary ex-footballers was a ploy to obfuscate the facts of the financial reports by eliciting general state of euphoria among the delegates from FIFA’s 200+ members.
Thoughtfully, Infantino baptized these ex-footballers the “FIFA Legends” and with general life expectancy rising globally (before the coronavirus?), they are increasing and will be compounded further by the expansion to 48 teams in the World Cup, thus will increase exponentially.
Most of the “FIFA Legends” have also been very active in charity events, with costs borne by FIFA despite the best efforts of SG Fatma Samoura to continue saving costs.
And who better than Diego Maradona to be called upon to captain the modern-day Saints? Would you believe it, “Mano de Dios”, himself!
Diego Maradona needs no introduction, an artist, a true maestro and a beauty to watch and that second goal against England in ‘86 will belong in the annals of History forever. The same annals of history that Infantino wanted to sell-off to Saudis…
The 1986 victory restored parity between England and Argentina, the latter who had lost the Falklands war against the English in 1982, all off the foot and hand of Diego Maradona, you can therefore understand that he surpasses legendary status back home.
It was a well-known fact that Maradona hated FIFA during the days of Blatter, which he described as a bunch of thieves, a tag that vindicated him in 2015 during the FIFA-gate arrests.
Insiders continue to reveal to us that this sustained hostility and scathing attacks from Maradona on the FIFA leadership really hurt Blatter, especially because he (unlike Infantino) is a true football lover.
When the media reported that Infantino had met Maradona during the Euro in Paris and that the latter was going to Argentina to be involved in the resolution of the problems there, it was quite a bombshell, that the hater of FIFA for so many years was going back to his native country to work on the solution of the Argentinian chaos.
Would Maradona, a permanent resident of Dubai, with only a one-month annual visit and stay in Argentina really manage the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Argentinian FA, now that the dinosaur Julio Grondona had died and left the federation in chaos?
However, despite his legendary status, Maradona (for obvious reasons) was unwanted in the Argentinian football ecosystem. They loved him to death as long as he stayed as far away from the country and its affairs as possible. Wow!
Even the Argentinian Government didn’t want him anywhere near the game, and when this fact was relayed to him, a man accustomed to getting his hearts desires, he was furious to a fault, naturally.
So why would Infantino want to insinuate a legend like Maradona on Argentina?
Perhaps to keep links with Argentina or better still in an attempt to further flush down the legend of Platini by reintroducing Maradona, because, doesn’t it take one legendary status to white wash another?
But Infantino was not yet done, he installed another legendary footballer, the Croatian Zvonimir Boban, as a Deputy Secretary General of FIFA, working directly under Fatma Samoura.
Boban graduated in Croatia in History (“Christianity in the Roman Empire”) which sounds as vague as corruption in football, before he later did some sport journalism, especially in Italy with Sky.
So, what was the role of Boban in the FIFA ecosystem?
Certainly attending FIFA Congresses and other important events as well as giving media interviews mainly to Italian newspapers where he repeatedly stated the fallacy of just how bad football had been until Infantino took over at FIFA and that everything was now being done professionally.
But FIFA insiders quietly murmur that he also held important internal meetings with some senior staff to announce to them their dismissal from service.
In this case, while Fatma Samoura chose those who would be axed, it was up to Boban to inform them of this, on most occasions inviting them to his office for a cup of coffee, before he dropped the bombshell on them.
3 years later, when he finally realized what an ogre Infantino really was, he pressed the escape chute open, before landing at AC Milan, where his skills were probably better suited.
Boban had miraculously outlasted Maradona who had captained the ill-fated FIFA legends circus and Marco Van Basten who had served as Technical officer at FIFA.
In Africa, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad had watched Infantino mis-use football legends for his own purposes, and therefore borrowed a leaf from that situation.
In 2019, CAF named Mahmoud El Khateeb (Egypt), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon), Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba (Both Cote d’Ivoire), Rabeh Madjer (Algeria), Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria) and El Hadji Diouf (Senegal) as ambassadors for the continent’s flagship competition (AFCON).
Most poignantly though was the July 2019 announcement by CAF that “football legends Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba had been officially appointed as Special Advisors of CAF President Ahmad Ahmad after the two worked extensively with the CAF President since his election two years ago”.
Interestingly in February this year, celebrated Ivorian journalist and CAF “Media expert” Mamadou Gaye announced on his social media platform that Didier Drogba had apparently been sacked from his position as special advisor to CAF President Ahmad.
The sacking was attributed to his lukewarm approach to his so-called duties on the one hand, where he didn’t show up for CAF events where it was expected that his fame would somehow rub off on Ahmad, whose reputation and standing in global football had taken a beating, since his high profile arrest by French police over corruption and accusations of sexual harassment against female employees surfaced.
The only event in which Drogba was ever present was a seminar on Development of Competitions and Infrastructure in Africa in the Moroccan city of Sale last January, attended also by Infantino. It was at this event that a CAF Legends team was formed and tasked with inspecting continent’s sporting infrastructure to ensure that they meet international standards.
The second reason however, was vintage Ahmad, who proposed the sacking of Drogba for chiming in, in support of FIFA President Gianni Infantino when the latter proposed the change of the AFCON from a biennial (every 2 years) event to a quadrennial one (every 4 years).
This proposal by Infantino came against the backdrop of CAF’s refusal to extend the role of Fatma Samoura as General Delegate for Africa for another 6 months and tensions about reports of a FIFA-commissioned audit by global audit firm PWC that showed that CAF mandarins had misappropriated upwards of $24 million from CAF.
In November 2019, Infantino had joined the African legends in the Congolese hamlet of Lubumbashi, the home of the grossly over-funded club TP Mazembe for an anniversary celebration, where he once more played with them.
Does Infantino really care about football legends?
Certainly not! And they are learning very fast that they are only relevant to him as long as they serve their purpose of bolstering his standing in the eyes of the World by associating with them.
The not-so-bright-bulb Ahmad Ahmad, copy/pastes things from FIFA thoughtlessly but expects the legends that he has appointed, to mindlessly defer to his limited football knowledge ad infintum?
To expect that Infantino would sanction Ahmad for the theft of $24 million would be like asking American astronauts why they won’t fly to and land on the Sun, when it would be so easy if they did it at night!
Will Legends agree to stop being used like toilet paper by footballs tin-pot dictators, and retain their hard-won pride?