Best of luck Gianni!

The unfolding of corruption charges at FIFA shook the footballing world to a degree, whereby everyone lost faith in the sport they loved. It will take a very responsible and honourable man to repair the damage that has been done.

Can the newly-elected FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, take the game forward?   -  AP

Men who govern football in the world recently met in Zurich to pick the next head of world football. Regardless of who finally got elected, this was an incredibly hard task to take on. It was impossible to please everybody after such a turbulent time with the unfolding of one corruption charge after the other against members of the previous regime. This change at the helm is good for the game, a step in the right direction and Gianni Infantino is the man for the job.

 

The unfolding of corruption charges at FIFA shook the footballing world to a degree, whereby everyone lost faith in the sport they loved. All my life, I have played the game with respect and full honesty, and so I know exactly what it means to the fans, parents, kids, the families, who turn up week after week to support one of the most affiliated games in the world.

The daily sordid news cycle left you with a feeling of deflation. It hurt more because the people involved were known to me. It will take a very responsible and honourable man to repair the damage that has been done.

Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa from Bahrain was projected as the favourite, but I always expected Infantino to walk away with the win. He has the experience needed to organise such an enormous entity, FIFA being one of the biggest in the world.

The new chief, like his predecessor, Sepp Blatter, also hails from Switzerland and coincidentally just lives a few kilometres away from the former boss. He has also been a long-time deputy to former UEFA president Michel Platini.

Such “closeness” with the earlier regime can only be an asset for Infantino. He has an incredible knowledge of the background and can now identify with what, when and where Blatter made mistakes. He knows the “mistakes” which just cannot be repeated. Knowledge is power and Infantino has that, which makes him a sure bet to take things forward and work for the improvement and growth of FIFA.

He needs as many friends in the business as possible to have clarity and insight into the task at hand. If Infantino thinks Platini is innocent then that’s his opinion and he obviously has a reason for thinking that way. I might slightly agree with him having an in-depth knowledge of Platini myself, but if something is questioned at UEFA then it becomes highlighted on the world stage. The scandal, involving Platini, has brought a stigma, which is very hard to shake off; there is no smoke without fire. But I respect Infantino’s view that Platini might actually have been set up and I can possibly agree a little with this argument.

Having said all that, the former UEFA General Secretary has an enormous task ahead. His foremost job will be to regain the lost love and the public reputation of FIFA, to unite all countries and gain their confidence once again, and to lead FIFA in a way that there is growth within the business. This will surely take time and I do really believe Infantino will give it an honest go and try delivering, getting the job done on a personable basis, which is imperative for the structure of FIFA. It is all about the people and the business interests should be secondary. Money will come in once the right governing body steps up and showcases what can actually be done. However, the new man’s idea of expanding the World Cup further to a 40-team affair needs more thinking and debates. Financially it will be a win-win situation, but FIFA needs to ensure that the quality of the tournament is not diluted.

The decision to alter the European football calendar for a winter World Cup in 2022 is also wrong, though many might not agree with my view. Qatar can be a great host, but the change in the calendar looks like a recipe for disaster.

Former players like me, eat and sleep football and it’s time for us to take a more active role in the running of the game. It only makes sense — a businessman can run a business (which is a big part of football), but they cannot organise football so to speak. My main aim and interest is in the grassroots and I think FIFA have lacked in its effort towards that part of the game. More time and money needs to be invested to make the game more universal.

If you look at countries like India, they need a new home-grown football hero to look up to. This can only be achieved through proper organisation of grassroots to find up and coming talent and bring them through whereby they can not only play in the ISL but maybe eventually in the Premier League too. This is imperative for the growth of football.