ZURICH (Reuters) - One of Michel Platini's main backers in his bid to head world soccer's governing body, Bahraini Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, might stand himself if a Swiss investigation hampers the Frenchman's candidacy, two sources have told Reuters.
Sheikh Salman, head of the Asian Football Confederation, had given a ringing endorsement to the European soccer chief as the man to lead FIFA out of a graft scandal that broke in May and has grown to the worst in its 111-year history.
But on Friday, Platini himself became embroiled in a Swiss inquiry into a 2 million Swiss franc ($2.05 million) payment in 2011 from veteran FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was placed under investigation for criminal mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
Both Platini, a former French international, and Blatter, a Swiss national, deny wrongdoing over the affair.
Klaus Stoehlker, a confidant and former advisor to Blatter, told Reuters he understood that Salman is "carefully looking at the situation of the FIFA election" but has yet to make a decision on whether or not to enter the race.
Media reports in Qatar have suggested Salman might run in the February vote in Zurich if Platini dropped his bid.
Switzerland's Attorney General says that Platini is somewhere "between a witness and an accused person" in the investigation of the payment.
Asian soccer analyst Osama el-Shekh, a well-connected expert in gulf region football politics, said he has been made aware that AFC president Salman is waiting to see the outcome of the investigation into the payment.
"In the case that Platini decides not to stand, or if there is a reason, such as the Ethics Committee, that he cannot stand, then Sheikh Salman maybe will decide to stand," the Egyptian told Reuters.
Sheikh Salman's office was not available for comment.
Sheikh Salman is closely allied with Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the most powerful men in international sports politics.
The 51-year-old Sheikh Ahmad is a member of the FIFA executive committee and is also the head of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).
El-Shekh said that Sheikh Ahmad would without doubt throw his weight behind any electoral move from his key ally.
"They are very close friends and they support each other and will coordinate," he said.
Asia already has two hopeful candidates with Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who was defeated by Blatter in May's vote, running again and South Korean Chung Mong-joon, the 63-year-old billionaire scion of South Korea's Hyundai industrial conglomerate, also bidding.
The situation has also moved European football associations backing Platini to take a more cautious approach, awaiting the outcome of investigations.
The UEFA president says the nine year gap between his work for FIFA, which concluded in 2002, and the 2011 payment was due to FIFA lacking the funds to pay him.
Platini would have to pass an Ethics Committee 'Integrity Check' after submitting his nomination by October 26.
The FIFA corruption scandal broke in May when 14 soccer officials and marketing executives were indicted in the United States for bribery, money laundering and wire fraud.
Reporting By Simon Evans; editing by Ralph Boulton