London: Former Portugal and Real Madrid winger Luis Figo announced on Wednesday that he is to challenge incumbent Sepp Blatter in this year's FIFA presidential election.
Luis Figo. Pic/AFP
"I care about football, so what I'm seeing regarding the image of FIFA -- not only now but in the past years -- I don't like it," the 42-year-old said in an interview broadcast by CNN. "If you search FIFA on the internet you see the first word that comes out: scandal -- not positive words. It's that we have to change first and try to improve the image of FIFA.
Football deserves much better than this." Figo joins Asian Football Confederation vice-president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, Dutch football chief Michael van Praag, ex-FIFA executive Jerome Champagne and former France winger David Ginola in the running to unseat Blatter, who will bid for a fifth term in office in the May 29 election.
The deadline for nominees to announce their candidature falls on Thursday. Figo told CNN he had secured the necessary support from five national football associations, but declined to identify them. "I've been talking with so many important people in football -- players, managers, president of federations -- and they all think that something has to be done," added Figo, who won the Ballon d'Or in 2000 and was voted FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001.
"Last year was the World Cup, I was in Brazil and I saw the reaction of all the fans regarding the image of FIFA and I think something has to be changed. "Change in leadership, governance, transparency and solidarity, so I think it's the moment for that." As one of the most famous footballers of his generation, Figo is the most high-profile candidate to have launched a bid to succeed Blatter.
The 78-year-old Swiss has been tarnished by accusations of corruption stemming from the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively. Hailing from Lisbon, Figo played for Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan during a glittering career. A skilful, two-footed wide player, he captained Portugal at the 2006 World Cup and won a total of 127 caps, making him his country's most-capped player.
As well as working as an ambassador at Inter, he has served on European governing body UEFA's Football Committee since 2011. "I am convinced that FIFA's position as the governing body of world football is absolutely vital," Figo added. "For this to be preserved, it is essential that we see change at the top and we set FIFA on a new course which is all about football and less about politics.
"Football runs through my veins. I am a man of football, inside out and I am ready to help bring about change." Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho backed his compatriot's decision to stand for the presidency. "Luis Figo's candidacy is a great step forward for football. His career over many years grants a better future for FIFA," Mourinho said in a statement.
"I believe in his character and determination, as well as his passion for the game. He will be a president focused on football and its general improvement, acting closely with all federations." The Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) said it was "a huge honour" to announce its support for Figo's candidacy. "It's a difficult election, but Luis will be persistent in putting across his points of view on what football needs," the organisation added in a statement.