Since Friday, when it became apparent that former French diplomat and FIFA insider Jerome Champagne was running for FIFA President, I have heard various theories about his candidacy from well-connected sources in the game. Champagne is a world soccer insider whose relationships with current FIFA President Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini were thought to be excellent. Given Platini’s desire to challenge Blatter for the FIFA head crown, three narratives revolve around how Champagne fits into this.
One narrative is that most states view Champagne as a placeholder for Blatter, the controversial 77 year-old FIFA President. Champagne waging a candidacy while Blatter continues to run FIFA may force Platini to declare his candidacy and start attacking the FIFA hierarchy while Blatter stays above the fray. Champagne can then either replace Blatter as the establishment candidate if the attacks by Platini yield results or replace Champagne after the 2014 World Cup having not taken the bullets. Under this theory, Champagne’s announcement is a tactical move meant to draw Platini out. If the UEFA President does not take the bait, Champagne will simply bow out in time.
Another narrative is that Champagne is genuinely a reformer whose time in the FIFA inner circle has convinced him that soccer’s governing body must modernize its approach to 21st century realities. Those who believe this feel the Frenchman will stay in the race regardless of who runs.
A third theory has been floated that Blatter has decided not to seek re-election and is giving Champagne, as his preferred candidate, the inside-track on the job if he announces now. This view also looks at a tactical approach where Blatter’s loyalists do not want the job falling to Platini. And by fielding a Frenchman with connections in the game (including an endorsement from Pele), they have their best shot to defeat Platini.
One thing nobody seems to believe that I have spoken to is that Champagne is a place-holder for Platini. Both are French and my initial assumption upon first hearing the news Friday was this, but after talking to over a dozen knowledgeable people this weekend, I realize that it is highly unlikely.
The three narratives are so disparate in assumptions that the safest conclusion is only a handful of people really know what prompted Champagne to run. In time we hope clarity will be apparent in the race for the FIFA Presidency. But as is so often the case with the world governing body for the sport, this race could very well be as confusing as ever.