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Guardiola, Abramovich, Woodward, Valcke among Most Influential 20-11

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.

MOST INFLUENTIAL: 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

20. Pierluigi Collina - Head of UEFA referees

Pierluigi Collina is widely regarded as the greatest official in football.

Given that he set the bar for referees during a career in which the Italian was regularly hailed as one of the greatest officials ever, it is little wonder Collina now sets the standards for them as UEFA's head of referees.

Collina knows that refs are the go-to lightning rod for, well, pretty much anything that goes wrong. Therefore, his mission is to make life easier for refs and, most importantly, reduce the amount of controversial postmatch discussion over officials' decisions. Like when he recently called for changes to the offside rule or suggested a "sin bin" for players who are found guilty of diving. Will his comments have an impact? We'll find out after the International Football Association Board (IFAB) meets in October before presenting its new plans.

An authoritative voice, Collina's role as UEFA referee chief has seen innovations within the European game (like additional officials on goal-line duty) explored by FIFA and, in the case of goal-line technology, adopted at the World Cup in 2014.

However, perhaps the greatest compliment that could be paid to Collina came from what was otherwise one of the game's ugliest incidents. During the Calciopoli scandal in Italy, where Juventus were stripped of two titles over efforts to influence officials, telephone intercepts revealed that Collina had earned the hatred of disgraced Juve managing director Luciano Moggi for being "too objective."

19. Christian Seifert - Deutsche Fussball Liga Chief Executive

Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert speaks to club representatives.
Christian Seifert is a respected administrator who is head of the Bundesliga.

The Premier League gets the lion's share of hype and attention, but it's the Bundesliga under Seifert that continues to close the gap. As head of the organisation that heads up the German Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga, Seifert is one of Europe's most respected football administrators and is in charge of affairs in Europe's biggest and wealthiest economy. That is why his calls in November 2014 for the continent's top leagues to consider boycotting the 2018 World Cup in the face of so many negative FIFA stories carried such weight.

Now primarily concerned with helping Germany compete with the huge marketing power of the Premier League, Seifert has argued that the amount of money in the English top division has meant there is no space for the creativity that could improve football in the country. However, the Bundesliga is streets ahead in other terms -- notably attendances, which saw an average of 42,125 go to games, better than the Premier League (36,657) and La Liga (27,053).

Running an incredible tight financial ship, Seifert's commitment to "affordable ticket prices, a comfortable viewing experience and high standards of safety and security" have not come at the expense of profits. The Bundesliga came in at €383.5 million in 2012-13, while also ensuring that 17 or 18 clubs operated without debt. Despite Bayern's dominance in the Bundesliga, television audiences have continued to rise and Seifert will renegotiate the current four-year contract worth a total of €2.5 billion ($2.8 billion), which ends in 2017, safe in the knowledge he has helped to make the league one of the best in the world.

18. David Gill - Vice-chairman of the FA, UEFA ExCo member

David Gill formed a formidable partnership with Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

Since stepping down from front-line duties as chief executive of Manchester United, Gill has become a trans-continental powerbroker as a UEFA Executive Committee member since 2013. (Trivia buffs might also note Gill turned down a similar post with FIFA when Sepp Blatter was initially re-elected in 2015.)

During his time at United, where he began as finance director in 1997 and now remains a non-executive director, Gill rose to prominence for his work as an efficient, pragmatic administrator; together with Sir Alex Ferguson, he helped mastermind one of the most dominant spells of any English club in the Premier League era.

Gil, 57, has also been on the board of the English Football Association since 2006 and now helps to shape the future of the English FA under chairman Greg Dyke and chief executive officer Martin Glenn.

17. Jerome Valcke - Secretary General of FIFA

Jerome Valcke has faced some tough questions as Secretary General of FIFA in light of the corruption scandal.

For a body under such media scrutiny, it is perhaps apt that FIFA's leading administrator is a former journalist. Valcke, 54, made his name at French TV station Canal+ and Sport+ in the 1990s but has been FIFA president Sepp Blatter's right-hand man since 2007 and a member of FIFA since 2003, when he joined as Director of Marketing and TV.

However, Valcke has not been able to steer clear of the controversy that engulfs FIFA. He is one of many at the heart of the FBI investigation into corruption; he has denied wrongdoing over allegations that he paid $10 million to former vice president Jack Warner in 2008 in exchange for votes for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has painted Valcke as the architect of the governing body's recovery from an early-2000s financial crisis to its current cash-rich status, and it is often left to the Frenchman to be the hard-edged politician in the face of FIFA's various scandals and provide explanations for the Qatar scandal and some of the fallout from Brazil's hosting of the 2014 finals. Indeed, his influence remains strong given his close connections to those facing criminal investigation; Valcke's knowledge could well prove vital in the FBI case or in clearing certain officials of wrongdoing. He was also on the front lines defending FIFA's much-derided decision to play the Women's World Cup on artificial turf, and said it was "crazy" to suggest the decision was tantamount to discrimination. Plenty of players and fans disagreed, of course, and Valcke (like Blatter) ended up cancelling his scheduled appearnace at the Women's World Cup. 

It was Valcke who led support for New York lawyer Michael Garcia's probe into the governing body, which is still to fully see the light of day, and is he often the one to face the media spotlight when comment needs to be made. In his role as FIFA Secretary General, Valcke is second only to Blatter and primarily oversees the areas of finance, member organisations, competitions and TV & marketing. 

Valcke said that he expects to leave FIFA after a new president is elected. 

16. Ed Woodward - Manchester United executive vice-chairman

Ed Woodward has enhanced his reputation as a canny transfer negotiator at Manchester United.

If you were to ask Woodward about his influence at Manchester United, he could succinctly answer by reeling off the names of players he's signed for the club in the transfer window so far this summer: Memphis Depay (£25 million), Matteo Darmian (£12.7 million), Bastian Schweinsteiger (£14 million) and Morgan Schneiderlin (£25 million). If he really wanted to show off, he could also rattle off brands like Adidas (whose 10-year kit deal will be worth roughly 1.3 billion dollars) and Chevrolet, whose kit sponsorship will put nearly 500 million dollars into the club's vault over the next seven seasons.

It's what happens when you're in control of one of the biggest transfer budgets in football and help oversee commercial growth, Woodward's key responsibilities for the past two years, at one of the world's biggest clubs (£2.03 billion).

Having been heavily criticised in the summer of 2013 for overseeing a repeated missing of transfer targets to undermine new manager David Moyes -- who led the club to a dismal seventh place finish in the Premier League -- the following year Woodward signed off an outlay of over £150m for replacement manager Louis van Gaal as United came from the brink of chaos to finish fourth and claimed a place in the Champions League playoffs.

Like his predecessor David Gill, Woodward, 43, is a qualified accountant and came to United after his part in advising the 2005 takeover of the club by the Florida-based Glazer family. Until taking his current position in May 2013, Woodward had led United's commercial operation, which has helped double the club's total revenue yield in the last decade from £243 million to over £500 million in 2013-14, making them one of the most profitable clubs in world football.

Now he presides over football matters for Manchester United, where the expectations after this summer's new signings will far exceed just finishing in the top four. It's time, in other words, for Woodward & Co. to show their worth.

15. Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa - President, Asian Football Confederation

Sheikh Salman holds a very prominent position in football as President of the Asian Football Confederation.

Prominent because of his position, but also because of who else the Bahraini is putting into position. Sheikh Salman helped orchestrate the rise of Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah to one of Asia's three ordinary representatives on the FIFA executive committee.

Sheikh Ahmad is also a viable successor as president to Sepp Blatter, who recently praised Salman for "unifying" his region's football: "The Asian confederation had been in waters not so very clear and not so clean and now you [Sheikh Salman] have brought back this boat so it is only justice for this congress to re-elect you as leader."

With the football focus increasingly turned to Asia as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar approaches, Sheikh Salman will be an important voice in representing the region.

14. Herbert Hainer - Adidas CEO and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Bayern Munich

Herbert Hainer has influence at Bayern Munich and across Europe as CEO of Adidas.

Perhaps the fiercest battle in football happens off the pitch among sponsors going head-to-head for the disposable income of fans. In that arena, Hainer is leading the way by increasing the Three Stripes brand around the world.

Hainer's power base is Germany football, as we were all reminded in April when Bayern Munich signed a new 10-year kit deal with Adidas to the tune of €900 million that kept up a working relationship between the pair that has existed for over half a century.

Though Nike continue to lead the global rankings and Under Armour have leaped into second place in the all-important U.S. market for sports apparel and goods, Adidas is fast closing the gap. Manchester United moved to Adidas from Nike in 2014 to sign a £750m, 10-year kit deal that begins this year, while a £112m deal with Italian champions Juventus also starts this season.

Chelsea, Real Madrid, Ajax and Benfica are some of the other teams to be sponsored by the company and FIFA's partnership with Adidas, which dates back to 1970, was extended by Hainer in 2013 until 2030. Adidas supply the match ball for each FIFA tournament. If there's a game of football taking place somewhere, Adidas is almost certainly involved in supplying something. 

13. Roman Abramovich - Chelsea owner

Roman Abramovich has transformed Chelsea since saving them from potential ruin by buying them in 2003.

Since he bought Chelsea in 2003, the west London club has gone from an inconsistent side more known for domestic cup form that sustained league success to a bona fide European giant that sits among the game's elite.

Abramovich's money-no-object policy of spending overthrew the ancien regime of Manchester United and Arsenal and also unsettled continental powers. The Russian spent over a billion pounds on all aspects of the club, with huge investment on the playing side. The rewards have been three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, a Europa League title and, fulfilling the obsession of their owner, the coveted Champions League in 2012.

In 2014, the Stamford Bridge club made a profit for the second time in three years.

Abramovich, 48, has also played a part in building the career of Jose Mourinho. The two fell out in 2007 but with Mourinho now back at the helm, the club looks set to achieve the dynastic success the Russian craves. The fact that the next World Cup is in Abramovich's home country, where he is an ally of president Vladimir Putin, suggest that his influence on the game could grow further in years to come.

12. Issa Hayatou - CAF President

Issa Hayatou will enjoy greater influence when Sepp Blatter leaves his post at FIFA.

The equation is pretty simple: Whoever runs the Confederation of African Football is a major player in world football's Game of Thrones politics. Put another way: It's good to be Issa Hayatou, president of CAF, a position he's held since 1988.

During his reign, CAF's power has increased significantly with more World Cup teams, a South Africa-hosted World Cup and a 16-team African Nations Cup. Blatter, of course, has long been a champion of the region as well, and even after he leaves office, Hayatou will remain a pivotal figure. Remember, CAF traditionally votes as one in FIFA presidential elections, which means that if a candidate can secure those 56 votes, he or she is more than halfway to gaining the 105 needed for a majority.

That candidate isn't likely to be Hayatou, who has remained in power through the corruption allegations that have dogged FIFA for years. He was persuaded by UEFA to run -- unsuccessfully, it turned out -- against Blatter in 2002. Since then, Hayatou has become an arch presidential loyalist as well as his stand-in at the Women's World Cup where, in Blatter's absence, Hayatou was nominated to present the trophy.

11. Pep Guardiola - Manager, Bayern Munich

Pep Guardiola is seen as one of the greatest managers of all time.

Former Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi put it best: In football, there is a "before and after" Guardiola. There's no two ways about it, Guardiola's possession-based style of play while manager of Barcelona from 2008-12 blew the game open and marked the biggest tactical shift in the sport since Sacchi's side of the late 1980s. Though Guardiola is now the manager of Bayern Munich, the system he put in place at the Camp Nou still shapes how we judge football today.

Not only did Guardiola land an incredible 14 trophies with Barcelona, but he changed the way people think about a team's style. Making the short, "tiki-taka" passing style widely known, Guardiola ensured that winning looked beautiful too and almost immediately, other coaches tried to replicate what he did as pure technique and expansive football began to find greater favour. Mirroring Barcelona's success were Spain who, with several Camp Nou stars to the fore, won two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup.

Since becoming manager at Bayern in 2013, Guardiola has won two Bundesliga titles. His tactical impact and silverware are two very good reasons why, should he leave Bayern when his current contract expires at the end of the next season, clubs will fight for his services.

MOST INFLUENTIAL: 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

Information from Miguel Delaney and John Brewin was used in this report.


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