In a football world divided into vast regional Federations, there’s bound to be a few that are more difficult to manage and administrate than others. At least, that’s the diplomatic way of putting it.
If undiplomatic truth be told, apart from a far-from-perfect but considerably improving UEFA, almost all the rest of them are deeply flawed organisations; often corrupt and incompetent in equal measure; sometimes at the very highest levels.
No one would suggest it might be easy to run football across an entire continent, like the whole of Africa or South America for example, never mind the massive block of nations under the AFC’s umbrella which contains two thirds of the population of the world and a variety of very different cultures and traditions. What honest man or woman who doesn’t prize power above all would even fancy the task?
But there’s a whole bunch of contenders currently vying for the role of AFC boss right now, and it is a fascinating process to watch. I first encountered the Asian Federation when it was largely run by its General Secretary, ‘Dato’ Peter Vellapan, and learned that the ‘Dato’ bit meant the Malaysian equivalent of ‘My Lord’. (Lots of people in the footie world thought his first name was ‘Dato’.)
The ‘Lord’ – in conjunction with three consecutive Chairmen (two Malaysians and the ill-fated bin Hammam) – ran the AFC for almost three decades, 1978 – 2007, during which time the importance and value of world football grew from a rather small acorn into a huge oak tree and, of course, Asia staged its first World Cup.
But the organisation of the Federation did not appear to ‘modernise’ at anything like the pace, if at all. When I asked someone who had spent a few months at the AFC HQ in Kuala Lumpur as an intern a few years back how things worked out there, I was told that most of the staff sat around all day swatting mosquitoes and discussing in incredible detail where and what they were going to be eating that evening. This may have been something of an exaggeration, but probably not much of one.
These long passages of doing little would only (and suddenly) be broken, so I was told, when one or both of the ‘bosses’ arrived; held meetings which no one had prepared for and decisions which had in reality had already been taken were formally adopted.
When the last, deposed Chairman, the Qatari bin Hammam, arrived at the AFC in 2002, he reportedly found it ‘a shambles’ with little or no money in its coffers, and many agree he did succeed in tightening up some aspects of its malfunctioning, though his methods may have sometimes been problematical.
Since bin Hammam’s fall from grace at the hands of Fifa, the veteran Chinese football administrator, Zhang Jilong (whose name translates as ‘Lucky Dragon’) had been holding the fort and many (not least Fifa President Blatter) have expressed surprised he is not standing for election.
So the vacant post of Chairman of the AFC will be contested by possibly three representatives of ‘west’ Asia ( ie Arabia), and, so far, only one from the ‘east’, the highly controversial boss of Thai football, Worawi Makudi, who has been serially accused (though never convicted) of wrongdoing and seriously criticised my many in the wider football world.
The Arabic contenders are front-runner, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa from Bahrain; the UAE FA boss, Yousef Al Serkal, and the Saudi, Hafez Ibrahim El Medlej. All three are pledged to cleaning up the AFC and rooting out malpractices.
There is an understandable fear amongst the Arabic nations that a three way split of their vote would guarantee Worawi Makudi’s election, and last week, Asia’s Fifa VP, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, called all three together for a meeting in Jordan to see what could be sorted.
But only two turned up; Sheikh Salman was away in East Asia on the campaign trail and, therefore, looking very unlikely to step down at any request. Maybe one of the others will, but that means the Arabic bloc vote will still be split – and any successful contender from the ‘west’ will require quite a few votes from the ‘east’.
And, traditionally, that means doing deals to get them of course.
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.