Tomorrow in central London the first shots will be fired in what could prove a momentous battle to decide who runs world football when a former French diplomat will announce his intention to run for the Fifa presidency next year.
In firing the gun, Jérôme Champagne is aware he may be taking on his old master, Sepp Blatter, when the voting in the election is cast.
The Swiss, 78 in March, who has been at the helm of Fifa since 1998, has given hints that he might change his mind about retirement and run for a fourth term. For Champagne, 24 years younger, the campaign provides an ideal opportunity to present himself as the new man to lead the world governing body in the 21st century.
If battle is joined it will be between two men who for many years were very close. In 2002, Champagne ran Blatter’s successful re-election campaign and was very proud of the fact that he succeeded in getting more votes from Africa for Blatter despite the Swiss being up against Issa Hayatou, the head of the African football federation.
Champagne’s reward was to be made Fifa’s deputy secretary general, but, in 2005, he fell out with Blatter who disapproved of the way the Frenchman was building himself up to be his successor.
Since then, and particularly after the corruption crisis which engulfed the organisation in 2010 which forced the resignation of several executive members, Champagne has presented himself as a radical reformer eager to make the changes necessary to ensure Fifa is fit for purpose.
In a 2012 paper entitled “What Fifa for the 21st Century?” he argued for reform of the executive so that it reflects the modern game. This would mean more women members – Fifa only elected the first woman last year – and also representatives from professional leagues and players.
Champagne would also like to see more use of television inside the stadium, ending the situation where TV viewers see more of the play through action replays than paying fans. For instance, in the 2006 World Cup final nobody inside the Berlin stadium knew why Zinedine Zidane was sent off while millions round the world clearly saw him head butting Marco Materazzi . “We have to embrace new ideas and develop others like technology,” said Champagne. “We have to embrace the changes in the modern world, both in the way football is governed and how we redress the imbalances that have crept into the game.”
Since his ejection from Fifa, Champagne has been going round the world trying to gather support from what is called the football family. Keen to advertise his diplomatic skills he has helped broker a new initiative in Cyprus involving the Greek and Turkish FAs which could unify football on the divided island for the first time since 1955, and worked on gaining recognition for Kosovo. This means Fifa members can play friendlies against that country despite the fact that it is not yet a Fifa member.
While he is very proud of his French roots, the fact that he is coming to London to announce his candidacy, instead of Paris, shows that he is very aware that the British media, which has been so critical of Blatter, could play a major part in shaping world opinion.
Champagne’s announcement of his London press conference has, nevertheless, taken the world of football by surprise.
One FIFA executive member we spoke to could not believe the news. It is just the sort of surprise Blatter has specialised in over the years.
It may not be enough to win the presidency but it has ensured that it will form an essential backdrop for the World Cup in Brazil with the men in suits more worried about who will be in charge of world football next year than who lifts the trophy.