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The man behind the presidency

At the sparkling headquarters of the Asian Football Confederation on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, you could have cut the tension with a knife, with Manchester United top of the agenda.

It was May 2007 and AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam doesn't hide his displeasure as he sits down with Man United chief executive David Gill and Sir David Richards, chairman of the FA Premier League.

The Red Devils had planned a money-spinning exhibition match against a Malaysian XI just 48 hours before the upcoming Asian Cup final.

•  Mohamed Bin Hammam interview - part 1

Bin Hammam didn't care that they were the champions of the world's number one league, the most recognisable name in the game, and would be marking the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's independence. Describing the game as "immoral, unethical and disrespectful" and "a kind of colonialism", he saw it as an infringement on the region's showcase event.

"He's very passionate about Asian football - totally dedicated - and not afraid to stand up to anyone," an AFC insider said.

In the end, the game was cancelled as Wayne Rooney and co. visited Japan, Korea and China but skipped Malaysia.

Those who know him well describe him as engaging and personable but not afraid to wield his considerable personal power when he has to. He has been AFC President since 2002 and could one day take over as FIFA boss.

On the flipside, Bin Hammam is sometimes "too hands on" - a compulsive micro-manager who's been known to drive some staff members crazy with a relentless eye for detail. Even here in laid-back Malaysia, professionalism and punctuality are so important that AFC employees who arrive for work more than 15 minutes late for a 9am start are locked out of the parking lot and required to take unpaid leave.

"He's tough but it really keeps everyone on their toes," one of the AFC managers told me. "You certainly notice that it's a quite different atmosphere when he's in the building."

Another high profile run-in came in November with his former Malaysian colleague Peter Velappan, who was AFC secretary-general for 30 years. After Velappan criticised the "insulting" plan to look at the possibility of shifting the ruling body's headquarters away from Kuala Lumpur, Bin Hammam accused his one-time fellow executive of conspiring against him. After 43 years of Malaysia hosting the AFC, Velappan claimed that Bin Hamman wanted to punish the nation for planning to host Manchester United during the 2007 Asian Cup.

With its polished marble flaws and vast windows overlooking lush green surrounds, AFC House has been at its current, purpose-built headquarters for the past eight years. It stands 20 kilometres south of central Kuala Lumpur near the National Stadium that hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the suburb of Bukit Jalil.

Bin Hammam wants better conditions and status - including tax exemption - for AFC staff, especially foreigners. So far, Singapore, Doha and Abu Dhabi - but not Malaysia - have put in letters of interest and will submit detailed host bids by the end of the year.

Malaysia's final hope of remaining Asian football's seat of power hinges on a meeting between government officials and AFC Vice-President Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, with a report due on January 15th.

"Bin Hammam is a great visionary who really believes in the power of Asian football and is always looking to improve things," the AFC insider said. "At first he saw the job as a stepping stone to the FIFA presidency but then he fell in love with Asian football. Today he sees the AFC as his family."

The 59-year-old Qatari - a self-made multi-millionaire through successful engineering and power plants businesses - knows a thing or two about big families. He has fathered 11 children, aged from three to 39, enough for his own Bin Hammam football team. He's always loved the sport - he was a striker in his youth before turning to sports administration at top Qatari side, Rayyan Sports Club - but has also held positions in other sports in his homeland including Volleyball and Table Tennis. He also enjoys Arabic poetry.

Even as he counts down to his 60th birthday next May, Bin Hammam looks almost a decade younger, thanks to devotion to health and physical fitness. On his many duty trips around the world, his staff knows that they can often track him down in hotel gymnasiums, doing his daily workout in between meetings.

In the second part of an exclusive interview with ESPN Soccernet, Bin Hammam lifts the veil on his little-known personal side, discusses his thinking behind a possible move by the AFC and speaks about the chances of an English Premier League game being held in his region.

Q: What is the latest on the possibility of Asia allowing the English Premier League to hold an extra round of matches and stage a so-called 39th game in Asia?

A: As far as I know, it's not anymore on the agenda of the Premier League. Here in Asia, the move has been rejected by me as the president of the Confederation. But they've talked with me (again) and I've said that it could be endorsed if the footballing governing bodies at continental and international level involved in the decision. I also emphasize that any match has to leave behind a legacy in this or that country.

Q: What do you mean by legacy?

A: I understand that the (EPL) clubs may be in the position to generate some more revenue. How much of this revenue is going to support the youth development programme? Or the clubs' structure? Or the leagues or the coaches? I don't want to just see that money has been taken away from this continent. If someone would ask if I've re-thought the idea, then I would say 'yes'. But these things have to be put in place, and then I'm for it.

Q: So it's not on the table at the moment but you're open to it in the future?

A: Sure.

Q: What do you say to Peter Velappan's claims that by opening up the possibility of taking the AFC away from Kuala Lumpur you are punishing Malaysia for wanting to stage the Man Utd game during the 2007 Asian Cup?

A: No, it's nothing like that. These individuals - everybody has their opinion - but it's not necessary that he's telling the truth. It's not unique for someone in my position (to have to deal with) jealousy, envy and so on. I don't base my decisions or judgment or actions as a reaction to individuals.

I would 100% like to stay in Malaysia. We've enjoyed our stay for a long time here we would like to continue. But what is AFC's status here? We're zero, we're nil. Nothing. We're just like any amateur club in Malaysia. That doesn't suit AFC's international image. We now already have three bids from Singapore, from Doha and from Abu Dhabi. The AFC vice-president will also approach Malaysia to see if there's a way for the AFC to stay in Malaysia.

Q: What kind of manager do you think that you are?

A: I am living and working in a professional environment and trying to develop myself and my skills. I'm trying to learn every day from my mistakes.

Q: Somebody said that because of your passion for Asian football that you considered AFC staff like your family members. Is that true?

A: (Laughs) Yes, I don't think anyone here has my age. I am (almost) 60 years old. I have children older than some of my staff here. I really consider myself a father more than anything else. It is my honour, let me tell you. With this age and my experience I think I care too much about this younger generation, what they're looking for, how they think. Maybe this is a style of an old man, you know, managing young people. I hope I can be fair, you know.

Q: What are your first memories of playing football in Qatar?

A: You could say that I pretended to play. I actually played until I was 17 years old. This was during the 1960s when football in Qatar was all amateur. But I was pretending. I cannot classify myself as a good player. I wanted to play as a centre forward. I always loved football. I remember watching Sir Bobby (Charlton) and Sir Stanley (Matthews) and a lot of the Brazilians. But I was involved in football administration from 20 years old. I was president of a club, I was president of a national association, I was an executive member of the AFC and FIFA and so on. From the first year I entered football administration to now, it has been 40 years.

•  Mohamed Bin Hammam interview - part 1

•  Sydney-born Jason Dasey ( is an international broadcaster and corporate host. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.


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