Gianni Infantino is new FIFA president, but now the hard work begins
Faced with continuing corruption investigations and forthcoming court cases against FIFA's top officials, the task facing new president Gianni Infantino is daunting.
Infantino is only too aware of what he is up against, promising in his election manifesto that he would "rebuild trust," a word not readily associated with FIFA given its recent travails. But, after sealing 115 votes in the second round in Zurich to take world football's top job, now the real work begins.
Since announcing his candidature last October, Infantino has steadily grown in stature and confidence, mounting a hard-hitting, global campaign that took in more than 100 countries. UEFA's general secretary reluctantly agreed to stand after his boss Michel Platini became embroiled in the scandal over the two million Swiss Francs payment (about $2 million) that eventually led to him and Sepp Blatter being banned by FIFA's ethics committee.
At the start of the campaign, there were even rumours that Infantino would strike a deal with Sheikh Salman (who was initially the favourite) and become his No. 2 in FIFA, but after clocking up the air miles and meeting the game's officials in their backyards, Infantino came to believe that he could assume football's top job.
Going into the Zurich election, UEFA, CONMEBOL and most of CONCACAF were already backing Infantino, but it was picking up votes from Africa and Prince Ali's supporters that enabled him to become president.
Infantino was also aided by a team of razor-sharp spin doctors whose previous successes include securing London the 2012 Olympic Games and Qatar the 2022 World Cup. They employed slick media techniques and PR initiatives that helped FIFA voters believe he was a safe pair of hands.
A member of Infantino's campaign team told ESPN FC: "We did the hard work, pressed the flesh and spoke to people face to face. That counts for a lot in an election. You have to get out there and make everybody believe that you are up to the job. As our campaign progressed, we realised that we didn't have to strike any deal with other candidates."
Infantino, 45, will now set about initiating a 90-day plan of action. It includes 11 points, such as starting the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup, reforming the transfer system and appointing a new FIFA secretary general.
Other reforms that he is planning are already part of the measures that were agreed to by FIFA members in Zurich, such as term limits of 12 years for the organisation's president and replacing its executive committee with a council that has fewer powers. Infantino was a member of the committee that drew up the reforms late last year, which further raised his credibility amongst FIFA members that he was serious about change.
Controversially, Infantino has also promised to offer each of FIFA's 209 members $5 million to invest in projects, almost doubling the amount they currently receive.
Having come up on the rails and crossed the winning line ahead of Salman, both football fans and those who voted for Infantino will be hoping that he delivers on his pledges to transform FIFA and does not shortchange them.
Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport