FIFA corruption damaging Michel Platini's presidential campaign
Ever-expanding criminal investigations hurting UEFA boss
More than two months into Michel Platini's FIFA presidential campaign, football fans are still waiting to hear just how he plans to rebuild the governing body's reputation. He might never get the opportunity.
By his own admission, the early poll favourite's own reputation might have been damaged by becoming entangled in the ever-expanding criminal investigations into FIFA corruption.
And that could encourage new names to throw their hats in the ring for the emergency election in February, triggered by Sepp Blatter's resignation announcement.
Platini's campaign was quickly supported by Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, but the Bahraini has been touted as potential contender himself.
"My name has been suggested by others but, while I would like to thank them for their trust and confidence in my leadership, the thought of being a candidate in 2016 had not crossed my mind," Sheikh Salman said on the AFC website on Friday.
Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA deputy secretary general, is still mulling over his options after failing to gain the five federation nominations required to stand in the May election that Blatter won.
The field of contenders is already packed.
Brazil great Zico and former Trinidad and Tobago captain David Nakhid are among the former players wanting to run the global game.
Former FIFA vice-president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who was Blatter's only rival in the May poll, is pursuing the job again.
And Chung Mong-joon, Prince Ali's predecessor as Asia's FIFA vice-president, is also on the campaign trail but the South Korean could be stymied by a FIFA ethics case over charitable donations to member federations.
The cut-off for presidential hopefuls to submit their candidacies to FIFA for eligibility and integrity checks is barely three weeks away on Oct. 26.
Election monitor Domenico Scala could block Platini's candidacy at that point, if the ethics committee hasn't already imposed a temporary suspension on the UEFA president, who has spent the last week defending his integrity and denying wrongdoing.
If Platini does not withdraw his candidacy — and the former France player and manager has given no indication of that — his current backers who are keen on the presidency would have to risk undermining friendships and alliances by running. If Platini was ruled ineligible after Oct. 26, it would be too late for any new names to enter the race.
Platini hoping to be cleared
Platini will be hoping to be cleared by the Swiss authorities in public before then, although attorney general Michael Lauber indicated Tuesday that the investigation has a long way to run.
"I did not reach a decision at the moment," Lauber said. "I am analyzing all that I got."
Platini was questioned by Swiss investigators last Friday about a payment of 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) he received from FIFA in 2011 for work carried out up to 2002.
Platini said he only requested payment in 2011 because, when he took the job as a Blatter adviser in 1998, FIFA's "financial situation" meant he could not be paid the "totality" of his salary. The case could centre on what was written down on paper.
"I am aware these events may harm my image and my reputation," Platini wrote to Europe's 54 federations.
Reaffirming his innocence in public is occupying Platini's time just when he expected to be ramping up his FIFA campaign. Even European nations who endorse Platini have questioned his explanation for the FIFA transaction.
A public manifesto launch appears unviable at the moment since he would be swamped with questions about the investigation.
Platini's only engagement with the media since last week has been an interview with the French national agency, which was distributed by UEFA, and exposing himself to wider media scrutiny would likely be a bruising experience.
For now, Platini's priority seems to be protecting his reputation rather than campaigning. Any rivals sensing an opportunity will have to decide quickly whether to grasp it.