Things couldn’t have gone any better for Gianni Infantino on the eve of Thursday’s World Cup start.
His preferred candidates won the right to host the 2026 World Cup, he had praise heaped on him by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and received big applause when he announced that he would be running for re-election as FIFA president again next year.
It didn’t even matter that he wandered off in the wrong direction in the huge congress hall at Moscow’s Expocentre in an attempt to welcome Putin, who appeared on stage from the other end.
Infantino apologetically raised his arms and rushed over to meet the president who didn’t disappoint him.
“He stood at the helm of FIFA in very complicated times but he is very good as our frontman, as a true fighter,” Putin said of Infantino.
The FIFA boss returned the compliment, clearly enjoying the back-patting: “From the bottom of our heart a big big big thank you to you Mr Putin for making us really feel part of the same team.”
And he was also happy when the financially lucrative and overall safe bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico with its projected revenue of 14.3 billion dollars beat Morocco to host the 2026 tournament.
The 48-year-old Swiss had already pledged more income for the 211 FIFA member federations when he stood for election for the first time in 2016, and another raise, from 5 million to 6 million dollars per four-year-cycle, is planned for the 2019-2022 budget.
But money was just one aspect as Infantino confidently told members that FIFA’s credibility and finances had been restored under his leadership, which follows that of the now-banned Joseph Blatter.
“FIFA was clinically dead as an organization. Today FIFA is alive and well, filled with joy and passion and a vision for its future,” he said.
And he left no doubt who was responsible for these alleged changes for the better after years marred by scandal.
“A leader must have a vision, and we have a vision for FIFA,” he said, naming “clarity, decisiveness, courage, passion and humility” as key components of his reign as he announced his intention to stand again on June 5, 2019 at the congress in Paris.
But some have suggested that even Blatter’s autocratic leadership pales in comparison to Infantino’s as the new boss swiftly brushed off any criticism, such as on the ouster of former ethics chiefs Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, and ex-governance boss Miguel Maduro.
His handling of the alleged 25-billion-dollar offer for a revised Club World Cup and new global Nations League as well as the expansion of the 48-team World Cup have also led to raised eyebrows.
“The man has proven in just two years that he is a disaster for football,” Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung said in an editorial Thursday titled “brute and ruthless.”