I can do what I have to do in four years - Van Praag
21 May 2015, 08:06
London - Until he took aim at FIFA president Sepp Blatter at a meeting of European soccer's rulers just before the World Cup last year, most people in the sport only knew Michael van Praag as a leading Dutch official.
That is not to diminish his contribution to both Dutch and European football in any way, but last June he put his head above the parapet and hit the headlines as never before.
For Van Praag, 68, current Dutch FA president and UEFA executive member, told his old friend Blatter he was no longer the man to do the job as FIFA president.
But it was not just what he told him, it was how he told him and his comments on June 9 are now regarded as the catalyst for this year's three-pronged challenge to Blatter in the FIFA presidential election later this month.
Van Praag also said at the time he had no interest in standing for president himself and since declaring his candidature in January on the back of a "Football for Everyone" manifesto, there have been doubts he will take his campaign to the wire.
He says he will consider all his options as the days go by, but the fact he stood at all added to the feeling among many in football that the time has come for a change at the top of the game.
The comments he made in Sao Paulo last year have resonated throughout the campaign, one which also includes Luis Figo of Portugal and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan as well as Blatter himself.
Van Praag stood in front of the 54 UEFA member associations and with Blatter in attendance, did not mince his words.
Afterwards he captivated journalists with a word for word account of what he said.
Van Praag told the incredulous media: "I said ... Mr. Blatter, this is nothing personal but if you look at FIFA's reputation over the last seven or eight years, it is being linked to all kinds of corruption and all kinds of old boys' networks things.
"I told him: I like you very much -- this is nothing personal.
"But you are now saying that Qatar was the wrong choice as venue for the 2022 World Cup, but you are not blaming yourself you are blaming your executive committee.
"FIFA has an executive president and you are not making things easy for yourself and I do not think you are the man for the job any longer."
Van Praag certainly cuts an imposing figure and as someone steeped in soccer from when he was a boy and who later became the chairman of Ajax and a successful businessman in his own right, he speaks in a clear, precise way and cuts something of a statesman-like figure.
He says that unlike Blatter, "who I have known for years," he has no interest in a long political career at FIFA, and if he won the election would only want to serve one four-year term as president before handing over to a younger man.
Van Praag said if he succeeds he would advocate a bigger World Cup, find a place for Blatter in an advisory role, attack match-fixing and "hold on to the good things FIFA has achieved".
But he added: "I want to do things differently to Mr Blatter, I only want to hold the presidency for a single term of four years.
"This is because I want to make room for a new generation as quickly as possible because I want to make full use of my time in office and not waste any time on a possible re-election.
"I know from experience in business as well as football, big steps in reforming an organisation can be taken in four years. And modernisation is what is needed so badly and it will begin with normalisation.
"But FIFA is doing badly and has lost all credibility."
Van Praag was little known outside Europe before last year and most of his support will come from Europe and perhaps the old Dutch colonies.
But however his campaign finishes, there is no doubt who fired the starting pistol for the race to be run.
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