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09 Nov 2018 00:00
Fifa boss Gianni Infantino (left), Russian President Vladimir Putin and France’s Emmanuel Macron. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)
Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said his plans for a new, expanded Club World Cup provide the perfect antidote to any potential threat of a breakaway super league by elite clubs.
According to documents published in the latest series of allegations on the Football Leaks website, a group of top European clubs has discussed the idea of establishing a closed competition that could replace the Uefa Champions League.
The revelations came barely a week after Infantino agreed at a Fifa council meeting in Rwanda to delay any decision about his plans for a Club World Cup and a global nations league, instead setting up a task force to study the proposals.
That was reportedly after Uefa delegates threatened to walk out in protest, but Infantino hopes his idea will still win out.
“The Club World Cup is the answer to any breakaway temptation,” Infantino said in an interview with AFP and other media in Zurich.
“It will bring much more money for clubs and for the solidarity [development] projects.”
Infantino has been pushing to revamp the Club World Cup by expanding it from the current seven clubs to 24 and holding it every four years. Twelve of the teams would be European.
He has said he has an offer of $25-billion over 12 years for that and the nations league from private investors, identified by Football Leaks as Japan’s Softbank.
Defending his plans, the 48-year-old said: “These attempts to create a super league are there since the 1990s, and this is coming every time, and it’s up to us, the government of football, to protect the whole pyramid football system, which benefits the clubs and the world football community.
“If clubs organise a breakaway super league, it will benefit only the clubs.
If Fifa organises the Club World Cup, it will benefit the clubs and the 211 football associations.”
Infantino, who also played down the prospect of the World Cup being expanded to 48 teams in time for the next tournament in Qatar in 2022, responded to further allegations from Football Leaks by saying he had done “nothing illegal”.
Several media, including French investigative website Mediapart, published claims that Infantino, then Uefa’s secretary general, “directly negotiated” an agreement with Manchester City after they were found to have breached Financial Fair Play rules in 2014.
He was alleged to have bypassed Uefa’s financial control panel by offering City a “fine of €20-million instead of €60-million”.
“The Financial Fair Play rules allow for the possibility of negotiations and agreements. And who is in charge of negotiations and discussions on the settlement agreements? The administration,” Infantino said.
Mediapart also accused Infantino of not doing enough to clean up Fifa’s reputation since succeeding Sepp Blatter to take charge of world football’s scandal-tainted governing body in 2016.
“We came here in 2016 and we tried to change a few things. We knew from the beginning that it would not be easy to try to do things in an environment which was very, very rooted in some practices,” said the Swiss-Italian, who also claimed that his background was not to the liking of his critics.
“The fact that you have the son of Italian immigrants being Fifa president is maybe not liked by many, and in addition he brings a lady from Africa [Fatma Samoura], a Muslim, in charge of the general secretariat.
“From all these criticisms, nothing was even remotely concerning anything illegal or contrary to some regulations, which is quite a big difference compared to the past in this organisation,” he added.
Nevertheless, the Football Leaks revelations also shone a light on Infantino’s relationship with a Swiss prosecutor called Rinaldo Arnold, which will now be investigated by authorities in Switzerland.
He allegedly invited Arnold to attend the World Cup in Russia, the 2016 Fifa Congress in Mexico and the Champions League final in Milan that year.
“I think it’s unfair this attack. Let the justice take its course as they always say. I am very happy and proud to have Rinaldo as a friend,” said Infantino, who added that he was “confident” of being re-elected Fifa president next year.
Arnold also denied any impropriety in an interview with Canal 9, a regional broadcaster in the Swiss canton of Wallis.
“Gianni Infantino invited me to football matches as a friend,” he insisted. — AFP
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