ZURICH, February 26 – Gianni Infantino made his name as UEFA’s master of ceremonies until scandal forced his boss Michel Platini out of the race for the FIFA presidency.
On Friday, after a remarkable journey, the shaven-headed Swiss-Italian lawyer ascended to the job that Platini coveted so much — the most powerful man in world football.
Since becoming UEFA general secretary in 2009, the 45-year-old Infantino became best known to the football public as the man who takes out the lottery balls when the draw is made for the Champions League.
Behind the scenes he also played a key role in giving the European confederation the financial power to rival FIFA.
He was very much a behind-the-scenes figure much valued by Europe’s leading clubs who battle for Champions League honours and riches each season.
Infantino was born in Brigue, less than 10 kilometres (six miles) from Viege, the home village of Sepp Blatter, the man he has now replaced as FIFA president.
But his rise would not have come without Platini’s downfall over a suspect 2 million Swiss francs (1.8 million euros, $2 million) payment that Blatter approved to the Frenchman in 2011.
Platini is currently serving a six-year ban imposed by FIFA.
“We will restore the image of FIFA and the respect of FIFA and everyone in the world will applaud us,” Infantino told Friday’s FIFA Congress after his election.
“I want to work with all of you together in order to restore and rebuild a new era of FIFA where we can put again football at the centre of the stage.”
Infantino is multilingual, speaking English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. He is also a workaholic trusted by the big clubs who were Platini’s major backers.
Infantino has proposed increasing the 32-team World Cup to 40 countries while saying FIFA should consider allowing two or more countries to host the event.
In his campaign, he said he wanted to give $5 million every four years to each member association and $40 million to each of the six continental confederations.
“He was named as a manager, but he knows how to do politics,” said one member of Platini’s entourage recently.
Infantino has Swiss and Italian nationality and is an Inter Milan supporter.
Former secretary general of the International Centre for Sports Studies at the University of Neuchatel, Infantino joined UEFA in 2000 to take charge of its legal and commercial affairs and gradually rose through the ranks.
According to his UEFA CV, Infantino handled contacts with the European Union and governments as well as clubs.
He helped create UEFA’s financial fair play rules that have aimed to rein in profligate clubs by stopping them spending more than they earn.