FIFA election: Lennart Johansson predicts easy win for old foe Sepp Blatter
It is 17 years since Lennart Johansson lost an acrimonious FIFA presidential election to Sepp Blatter and he has a stark message to the three men standing against his old foe -- you have no chance.
Vienna: It is 17 years since Lennart Johansson lost an acrimonious FIFA presidential election to Sepp Blatter and he has a stark message to the three men standing against his old foe -- you have no chance.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Dutch FA president Michael van Praag and former Portugal international Luis Figo are attempting to unseat Blatter from the position he has held since he beat Johansson by 111 to 80 votes in Paris in 1998.
But Johansson, 85, does not think the trio have any hope of winning and is upset that the man he wanted to run for FIFA president -- his successor as UEFA president Michel Platini -- ignored his advice to challenge the 79-year-old Swiss who is standing for a fifth term of office.
There is little love lost between himself and Blatter, but Johansson cannot see the president losing the election in Zurich on May 29.
"Blatter will win in the first round, but I can`t give you the figures," the Swede said in an interview with Reuters at last week`s UEFA Congress.
"He knows how to do it, he knows which way to go, how to handle things.
"I am not surprised he has remained president since 1998, he is an extremely intelligent man. Of course, it depends on how you use your intelligence.
"But he is smart and a very hard worker. I could call him at 7.30 in the morning and he would be working."
Asked what his relationship is like with Blatter now, or whether the old battle scars have healed, he replied "No. He doesn`t even say hello when we meet now. He avoids me.
"I sit on the first row as an honorary vice-president of FIFA and the honorary president of UEFA and he is sitting next to me ... but he doesn`t "see" me.
"But I don`t approach him. I see no reason to. These are the facts."
Johansson, now in need of a wheelchair for mobility, still keeps a close eye on the political scene and although his body might be slowing, his mind is as sharp as a razor.
He believes Blatter will win the election because his challengers will not be supported by the vast majority of countries outside of Europe -- and Blatter, in their eyes is not "European" despite his Swiss nationality.
"Africa and Asia, they will not vote for a European -- and Blatter is not `European` in their eyes, he is FIFA," he said.
Johansson`s 17 years as the head of the European confederation -- the longest reign of any UEFA president -- saw the expansion of UEFA from 32 countries when he became president in 1990 to 52 by the time he left because of the political upheavals in eastern Europe in the 1990s.
Together with his general secretary Gerd Aigner, they also transformed the European Cup into the Champions League and saw the expansion of the European Championship from an eight-team to 16-team finals.
Looking back he reflected: "I miss the years I had with UEFA because together what we built up was respect. People knew that we tried to be honest, with new rules and regulations.
"I learnt a lot from Gerd Aigner. He was very intelligent, and very straight-forward. He was never buying any votes for support."
Johansson lost the UEFA presidency to Platini eight years ago but believes the Frenchman has done a superb job as his successor.
"Indeed. He has surrounded himself with intelligent, well-educated people and experienced people. He has been very clever in that way and he stopped depending on Blatter.
"He has openly declared he is no longer supporting him."
But Johansson regrets that Platini decided last year not to stand against Blatter for the FIFA presidency.
"I asked him to do so. I advised him to do so because I thought that through his work for UEFA for a number of years he has gained a good reputation.
"He is the president of the biggest organisation and he is a former top player -- that is not bad. But he likes to live a normal life at all levels, so he was not very interested to go for the FIFA title."