MANCHESTER, (Reuters) - If Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan is to beat Michel Platini in the race to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president he knows he will have to be prepared to fight for the job — and all the indications are that he has taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.
In May, Prince Ali politely — some might say meekly — conceded after winning 73 of the 209 votes available in the first round, allowing Blatter to secure a fifth term.
It was a thoughtful gesture from the 39-year-old Jordanian, saving his allies from the very public act of defying Blatter for the second time in a day at the ballot box.
That election was simply about whether FIFA’s congress was ready to ditch Blatter — something that never looked likely.
This time there will be very a different question facing delegates — who do they want to lead the reforms of FIFA and re-shape the organization as it looks to leave its corruption crises behind?
As it stands, if Ali is to win, he has to persuade FIFA’s voters that not only is he a credible figure but he has to turn them away from current front-runner Platini, the UEFA president.
It is a task that looks extremely difficult for the Jordanian. The bulk of his 73 votes in May came from Europe, but with Platini standing, that electoral constituency has slipped away from him.
“I was not brought up to walk away in the face of a tough fight. Nor have I been brought up to walk away from what I believe in or take the easy way out,” Ali said as he announced his candidature on Wednesday.
It was a speech that, tellingly, was liberally laced with tough talk — in what was a clear effort to send the message that no punches will be pulled in the fight with Platini.
“I had the courage to fight for change when others were afraid….they didn’t have the guts to run, but I did,” said Ali, when referring to May’s vote, one of several not so disguised digs at Platini.
“We all face daily burdens. We must all overcome difficult challenges. Be it the fight to feed our families or the fight to stand up for what we believe in,” he added.
A wrestler in his youth, Ali spent part of his education at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom and served in the Jordanian special forces where he practiced free-fall parachute.
But what is firing him up for battle in this campaign is clearly a sense of having been betrayed by Platini.
During an interview at the Soccerex global convention in Manchester on Monday, Ali was careful not to make any personal attacks on Platini, focusing instead on labeling him a “protege” of Blatter.
When launching his campaign speech, however, he made it clear that he feels he was manipulated by Platini.
“I conceded that election not because I was not the best candidate, but because others were using me to make room for themselves,” Prince Ali said.
“Ever since President Blatter promised his resignation just a few days later, they have been scrambling to secure the job for themselves,” he added.
“I will not be a pawn for others. I cannot leave the field that I have cleared, only to allow a flawed system to continue.
“I am my own man, with my own beliefs. They are beliefs formed from my own experiences. I am free of influence and free of manipulation.”
It was impressive rhetoric which at the very least raised the prospect of a genuine battle for votes in FIFA — as opposed to the previous electoral practices which relied on deal-making behind closed doors, rather than public debate.
But with the leaders of his own Asian Football Confederation having thrown their weight behind the former France international, the odds are certainly stacked against the Jordanian.
He needs to persuade national associations in Asia to ignore their leader’s wishes and to get the former Blatter loyalists in Africa and the Caribbean to back a man who a few months ago was standing against their candidate.
Ali may have been the stalking horse, used to challenge and ultimately weaken Blatter’s power-base.
But now he needs to prove that he is the thoroughbred that can take FIFA over the many hurdles that it faces.
Editing by Ed Osmond