Luis Figo exclusively reveals to CNN he wants to become FIFA president
The 42-year-old declares intention to challenge Sepp Blatter in May elections
Former Real Madrid star says: "Football deserves much better than this."
Handling of the Garcia report convinced Portugal's most capped star to run
Luis Figo has entered the race to become FIFA president determined to change an organization he describes as all too often associated with “scandal.”
The former Real Madrid and Barcelona star revealed his intention to run against Sepp Blatter in an exclusive interview with CNN Wednesday.
The 42-year-old is renowned the world over after a distinguished 20-year playing career and arguably counts as the most credible threat yet to Blatter’s 17-year stranglehold on soccer’s top job.
Figo was twice voted world player of the year and represented Portugal 127 times, featuring at the World Cup in 2002 and 2006, as well as playing in three European Championships.
“I care about football, so what I’m seeing regarding the image of FIFA – not only now but in the past years – I don’t like it,” he told Alex Thomas in Madrid.
“If you search FIFA on the internet you see the first word that comes out: scandal – not positive words. It’s that we have to change first and try to improve the image of FIFA. Football deserves much better than this.
“I’ve been talking with so many important people in football – players, managers, president of federations – and they all think that something has to be done.
“Last year was the World Cup, I was in Brazil and I saw the reaction of all the fans regarding the image of FIFA and I think something has to be changed.
“Change in leadership, governance, transparency and solidarity, so I think it’s the moment for that.”
Figo joins former Paris Saint-Germain star David Ginola, independent candidate Jerome Champagne, Asian Football Confederation vice-president Prince Ali and Michael van Praag, the head of Dutch football, in the running to become president.
The deadline for nominations is Thursday and Figo confirmed to CNN he has secured backing from the five FIFA member associations required to get his name onto the ballot paper for May’s election, though he did not name them.
His work for Inter Milan and the Portuguese national team also means he satisfies FIFA’s rule that states all candidates must have played an active role in association football for two of the five years. He has also been working on UEFA’s Football Committee.
Figo said the furore over a key report that looked at the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup, awarded to Russia, and the 2022 installment, given to Qatar, had convinced him to stand against Blatter.
Soccer’s governing body enlisted U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia to probe claims that former FIFA member Mohamed Bin Hammam used a multi-million dollar slush fund to buy support for the bid, charges he and Qatar have strenuously denied.
Garcia quit his role as chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee after the organization decided not to publish his report, instead releasing a summary by German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert – its independent ethics adjudicator.
“After that report was not published I think that was the moment of change and the moment I thought that something had to be done,” Figo explained.
“If you are transparent and if you ask for an investigation, a report, which you have nothing to hide, why don’t you make public that report? If you have nothing to hide about that, you have to do it.
“[Publishing the report] is the easy thing to do if all the people is doubting what happened. If it came from FIFA to order that report and after that you don’t publish, it is not a good decision.”
Figo might have the name and the credentials but toppling Blatter could prove his toughest challenge yet.
FIFA’s president had repeatedly said his current term would be his last but had a rethink at the FIFA congress in June last year – despite the increasingly turbulent nature of his tenure.
The 78-year-old’s U-turn drew criticism from a number of federations but his power within the organization was underlined recently when the Asian Football Confederation confirmed its intention to support him even after its own vice-president, Prince Ali, declared his candidacy.
But Figo maintains he is unfazed by the scale of his task: “I think no one is untouchable in this life,” he said. “If you think like that you are wrong.
“Of course [Blatter] is a person that is running the organization for so long, since 1998, and a lot of people can be the favorite but I can say for me it is a fantastic challenge to try and convince the people to follow me and support me.
“I have so many examples in football; you can play against the strongest team or you can play against the weakest team and you never know who will win.
“Sometimes you think you will lose and you win, sometimes you think you will win and you lose. That is the beauty of sport. That is the beauty of this running too. It is not easy but you have to believe.”
Figo’s bid drew immediate support from Chelsea manager and fellow Portuguese Jose Mourinho, who said: “Figo’s candidacy is a great step forward for football.
“His career over many years grants a better future for FIFA. He will be a president focused on football and its general improvement, acting closely with all federations.”