Figo joins the herd of

FIFA stalking horses

Portugese the third Uefa-backed candidate hoping to make life tough for Sepp Blatter

As a man who once swapped Barcelona for Real Madrid it is fair to assume Luis Figo is not afraid of a challenge. One of the truly great players of the last 20 years, Figo was the darling of Catalonia when he accepted Madrid’s invitation to join the Galactico experiment.

The vitriol was shocking . This image is taken from his first return to the Nou Camp, and to the left of the corner flag is a pig’s head, hurled at him to express disgust.

After that sort of reception the snake pit of a Fifa election might seem like a stroll down Las Ramblas. But Figo’s entry to the crowded and politically complex presidential race is instructive.

A few thoughts on what’s going on:

1 With a little over 24 hours until the January 29 midnight deadline for candidates to declare, there are three candidates who say they have the five nomination letters from international FA’s that FIFA requires.

Figo, Dutch FA President Michael Van Praag, who set out a cogent case for change at a press conference in Amsterdam today, and Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, who will have a letter from the English FA board among his five. All three have to pass an ethical audit in the next 10 days, and Figo’s endorsement of a gambling company may provide a reason to exclude him.

2 It’s a mixed bag. One superstar name, a highly credible administrator, and a Crown Prince already inside Fifa’s charmed circle by happy accident of birth and patronage.

But what they all have in common is support from UEFA, the European governing body which is making all the running in this race despite its President, Michel Platini, having long ago decided not to take on his old patron Blatter.

3 Instead of one stellar candidate in Platini, UEFA is now effectively running three in a co-ordinated play to disrupt Blatter. Not that this is official policy. Formally UEFA is neutral — indeed a good chunk of its member associations in the east can be counted on to back Blatter as the Russian World Cup looms. But events of the last few days are not coincidence.

4 Three candidates will undoubtedly make life difficult for Blatter. In previous elections he has had single opponents who, one way and another, have been brushed aside. (Last time an opportune bribery scandal engulfed Mohammad Bin Hammam before polling day.)

4 Three targets will require three times the ammunition, and certainly the debate about FIFA’s future will be harder to dodge. All three will bang the reform drum, citing the corrosion of FIFA’s reputation on Blatter’s watch as compelling cause for change. Blatter will say he wants to complete his reforms, but having been in charge since 1998, that is a hard sell.

5 UEFA will not split its vote. Come polling day it’s highly unlikely there will be more than one name on the ballot paper in addition to Blatter. Two of Prince Ali, Figo and Van Praag will step aside once it is clear who has the best chance of a credible showing.

6 Assuming Blatter avoids mishap, whoever remains is unlikely to depose the President. He has pledges from Africa, Asia and South America (together close to 50% of the vote) and shifting those votes will he hard.

7 UEFA’s goal may not be victory, but defence. Blatter is likely to propose reform of the FIFA executive committee as part of his manifesto. Europe, occupies nine of the 25 seats on the Ex-Co, and 13 of the 32 spots in a World Cup. Other confederations covet places in both. Securing concessions on these issues may be a factor in the strategy.

8 The next five months will be febrile, and any credible organisation should welcome a genuine debate. But there’s no guarantee the politicking will bring the reform that FIFA so transparently requires.

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