Sheikh Salman may need help from bitter rival Prince Ali to win Fifa election
If the Jordanian goes out in the first round, the AFC president will need his votes against strong European candidate Gianni Infantino
The two favourites for the Fifa presidency may be forced to forge unwanted alliances with other candidates if the vote goes to a second round – which means an unlikely compromise between two bitter rivals from Asia.
Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa is favoured to replace Sepp Blatter as Fifa president at the February 26 election but faces a tough fight from Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino, who has emerged in recent weeks as a serious threat to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president.
But the intrigue lies in the relationship between Sheikh Salman and fellow Fifa presidential candidate Prince Ali bin al-Hussein – former allies who fell out in the past two years, according to insiders who say the Jordanian started to become “too controlling” in his previous role as a Fifa vice-president in the AFC executive committee.
“It might be close, and it’s difficult to call but the candidates should focus on getting Prince Ali as an ally,” said one official who has knowledge of the matter but is unwilling to be named.
“The second round of votes would be crucial. I could be wrong, but I doubt anyone would get two-thirds of the vote in the first round.”
The two other candidates are Frenchman Jerome Champagne and South African Tokyo Sexwale, whose African confederation has already said they would support Salman.
If one candidate is unable to obtain two-thirds of the vote from more than 200 national associations, there will be a second round of balloting minus the candidates who have garnered the least votes.
According to the official, Ali is unlikely to get past the first round and the surviving candidates will likely need his votes to further their ambitions.
It is understood that Japan and Australia, as well as at least four other Asian federations, will go against the AFC decision to support Salman and will instead vote for Ali. A handful of European associations are also likely to vote for Ali.
Infantino, however, is expected to earn most of the European votes, along with those from South America and North and Central America.
Salman’s only hope of avoiding a deal with Ali is if he sweeps to an outright win in the first round.
It is believed that the only reason Salman entered the race was because the AFC’s preferred candidate, Uefa president Michel Platini, was suspended over a corruption scandal that also involved Blatter.
Salman’s camp feared that, without Platini in the race, Ali’s chances would be bolstered and therefore he announced his candidacy last year in order to thwart the Jordanian.
The relationship between Ali and Salman started to deteriorate after the latter became AFC president in 2013. The two had a number of confrontations during AFC executive committee meetings with Ali reported to have claimed that he had helped Salman become the confederation president.
“I think when people realised what Ali wanted, that is to make most of the decisions, that’s when they started to be against him or when the relationship deteriorated,” said the official.