FIFA president Sepp Blatter has suggested Spain's Angel Maria Villar as a possible rival to Michel Platini for the role of his successor.
UEFA president Platini has been seen as Blatter's most likely replacement, with many in Spain suggesting that Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol (RFEF) president Villar was in line to then succeed the Frenchman as Europe's top football administrator.
Blatter, however, used an interview in Thursday's AS to continue his increasingly bitter public feud with Platini, seen most recently in their diverging views on a 2022 winter World Cup. Blatter put forward a number of reasons why Villar should step directly up to the FIFA presidency when he himself likely retires in 2015.
"Michel Platini could be a possible successor because we began together in 1998," Blatter said. "On the other side Angel Villar has appeared, who has a lot of experience and good contacts in America and Africa. He would also be a good candidate. I do not know if there is an agreement between Villar and Platini about UEFA and FIFA. In any case the FIFA presidential elections in 2015 will be open and democratic."
Former Athletic Bilbao player Villar has headed the RFEF since 1987 and won a seventh consecutive term of office when claiming 161 of 167 votes cast in 2012's presidential election. His reign has seen La Roja climb from also-rans to World Cup and European Championship winners, but has also brought financial controversies and heavy criticism for Spain's recent tendency to play lucrative friendlies in Latin America during the club season.
Platini praised Villar when attending the RFEF's annual assembly last year, which led to widespread speculation the pair had agreed to share the FIFA and UEFA posts when Blatter eventually steps down.
In Thursday's interview, however, the FIFA chief did not rule out standing for his fourth five-year term should a suitable successor not present themselves in 2015.
"I will not stay, once there is at least one candidate ready to continue my work," he said. "And I am going to battle until the last day for that. For me the most important thing is that whoever comes to preside over FIFA does it with the same spirit of globalising football that we have developed in recent years."
Blatter said his overriding concern was that football continued to bring people from diverse backgrounds together.
"Football is there to educate people in these values, and it also serves to unite people," he said. "It is a sport which is over and above conflicts, that is played in places like Syria or Iraq, in the countries where there are problems. But football continues there, creating connections.
"Whoever wants to be president will have to continue advancing on this path, and must also deepen the health programmes, which FIFA also develops, giving hope to the most difficult places on the planet. Our resources always return to football, and it must stay that way."