Michel Platini leads the five most influential people in football
ESPN FC is counting down the top 50 most influential men and women in football, as compiled by our editors and writers from around the world.
5. Lionel Messi, Barcelona footballer
He's a man of few words in public, but Messi's nonpareil play -- he has won the Ballon d'Or three times -- does enough talking to make him the true icon of this footballing age. Like his countryman Diego Maradona before him, Messi is redefining greatness in the form of goals, assists and playmaking skills you'd only dream of seeing in a video game.
Fittingly, the 28-year-old is also the face of "FIFA 15," the EA Sports franchise that, perhaps more than anything else these days, is a barometer of the pros who stir the passions of fans. Being on the cover is no small feat. It carries the prestige of its sister franchise, "Madden NFL," only without the pomp and circumstance.
At Barcelona, Messi's power borders on the absolute. His latest contract is reported to be worth $41.7 million per season, second in football only to Cristiano Ronaldo's. Relations with his club have occasionally been strained, particularly during his ongoing tax-evasion case, but there's no questioning Messi is too good to lose. Can you imagine his value if he were ever to go on the market?
It is Messi's prowess on the pitch that ultimately has the likes of LeBron James tweeting in admiration.
Heard Messi made the game winning pass! That's my type of play/er. Win, loss, draw u make the right play to help your team be successful- LeBron James (@KingJames) July 1, 2014
4. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern chief executive, president of European Clubs Association
Bayern Munich are one of the world's most profitable and powerful clubs, and they can thank a former player for much of their success. Rummenigge, now 59, was a dead-eye striker for the club for a decade, from 1974 to '84, but these days, his goals are all business.
Just the past season, under his watch as chief executive, Bayern announced a record turnover of €528.7 million. That's a 22 percent rise since their historic, treble-winning 2012-13 season. Sponsorship income rose 20 percent, with 1.3 million shirts sold last year, more than all 17 other Bundesliga clubs combined. Merchandise income increased by 27 percent to €105.2 million, and the Allianz Arena has been paid off 16 years ahead of schedule.
But Rummenigge's influence extends well beyond Bayern. He is president of the European Clubs Association, which represents 214 member clubs from the top of the game and is the only such body UEFA and FIFA recognise. The ECA has made sure funds from European Championships and World Cups flow back to clubs supplying players and is leading the fight for compensation to be paid for the rescheduling from summer to winter of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It is through initiatives such as these that Rummenigge is forging a new legacy.
3. Richard Scudamore, Premier League chief executive
Numbers don't lie. Scudamore, the king of the world's richest and most popular league, successfully negotiated a record £5.136 billion TV rights deal with Sky and BT for the 2016-19 seasons, a 70 percent rise from the previous £3 billion contract for seasons 2013-16. That staggering increase doesn't even factor in overseas rights deals, a testament to the man who has been chief executive of the organisation since 1999 and executive chairman since 2015.
This deal isn't just a case of the rich getting richer. The TV money is distributed relatively equal among eligible clubs (check out the Swiss Ramble for a closer look at how the money is redistributed), increasing Scudamore's popularity among clubs.
Fans, though, aren't sold on his approach. In the 55-year-old, they see the face of rampant commercialism who puts their needs a distant second. Despite the well-publicised TV deals, ticket prices continue to rise around the league's top clubs, thereby freezing out many supporters. It's a problem Scudamore has so far been reticent to address.
ESPN FC'S 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN FOOTBALL
- The list: 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-1 | FC TV
- Marcotti: The power is ultimately derived from the fans
- Brassell: Jorge Mendes -- A national hero in Portugal
- Chaudhary: Jerome Valcke -- The man who makes FIFA tick
- Kuper: Johan Cruyff -- Modern game's father fades from view
- Honigstein: Pep Guardiola -- Bayern boss has more to prove
- Mitten: Gary Neville -- From playing to punditry, coaching
- Merrill: Loretta Lynch -- The face of the FIFA investigation
2. Jorge Mendes, Agent
Who has influence in today's game? Follow the money, and it usually leads you to Mendes.
Little spells out the agent's importance better than the fact that the 49-year-old has been directly involved in three of the five biggest transfers of all time, including Cristiano Ronaldo's then-world-record £80 million move from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009. In 2014 alone, Mendes oversaw transfers worth nearly £210 million for clients such as Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Eliaquim Mangala.
Mendes can also count on James Rodriguez, Sergio Aguero and Thiago Silva as clients, and he secured Jose Mourinho's annual salary of nearly £13 million when the Portuguese returned to Chelsea in 2013.
More than anyone in the sport, Mendes is responsible for who ends up where, and beyond his clients, he has strong working relationships with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea, as well as Atletico Madrid and Porto, which perhaps points to the true depth of his influence. His Gestifute company has received substantial fees for "intermediation service costs." Exact figures are hard to come by, though Porto disclosed a £3.6 million fee for the sale of James Rodriguez to Monaco in 2013.
1. Michel Platini, UEFA president
In a world that will soon be without Sepp Blatter at the helm of FIFA, Platini is the game's biggest power player.
He took the helm at UEFA in 2007 and has been steadily building a legacy. Acting as a reformer, he introduced financial fair play (FFP) to control clubs' spending, reconfigured the Champions League so champions from lesser nations had a better chance to qualify, presided over the metamorphosis of the UEFA Cup into the Europa League and expanded the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams -- the new format goes into effect for the 2016 edition.
The moves have made the 60-year-old Platini popular among his constituent voters and leading clubs protected by the financial regulations he helped usher in. However, he remains a controversial figure if for no other reason than that he cast his vote, along with 13 FIFA Executive Committee members, for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
Will Platini run for the FIFA presidency? So far he has demurred, but Blatter's resignation in May could have him considering a clear path to the top job. Regardless of whether he stands, UEFA is set for a key role in the imminent intercontinental battle for FIFA's future. Platini, who openly talked of backing Prince Ali in the 2015 race, will be a central figure in shaping our sport.
Information from Miguel Delaney and John Brewin was used in this report.