BERLIN (Reuters) - German football association (DFB) President Wolfgang Niersbach was considered a potential dark horse for one of world soccer’s top administrative posts but allegations of a slush fund to help the country win hosting rights for the 2006 World Cup have cast a shadow over his credentials.
A purportedly scandal-free background, long links with the DFB, the world’s largest national football association, and limited involvement in global authority FIFA and its European counterpart UEFA singled him out in some quarters as an ideal candidate for one of soccer’s leading roles.
However, Friday’s report in Der Spiegel appear to have moved the goalposts somewhat, despite strong DFB denials that the 6.7 million euro ($7.60 million) fund was used in a cash-for-votes deal to hand the world’s premier soccer tournament to Germany by a one-vote margin over South Africa back in 2000.
Der Spiegel also claimed Niersbach, who took over at the DFB in 2012, and 2006 tournament organizing committee chief Franz Beckenbauer, Germany’s highest-profile former player, were aware of the money loaned by then Adidas CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus to the German World Cup bid committee.
While the allegations still need to be substantiated to determine whether there was any wrongdoing, Niersbach’s involvement in the affair, however, is likely to have wider repercussions for the sport.
With the heads of FIFA and UEFA both suspended as part of ongoing corruption investigations, the football world had already initiated the process of sounding out possible replacements.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has already confirmed he will stand down on Feb. 26 to make way for a successor after U.S. and Swiss criminal investigations focused on corruption, bribery and racketeering charges plunged the authority into its biggest ever scandal back in May.
UEFA boss Michel Platini, originally favored to succeed Blatter, has seen his chances diminish in the wake of the Swiss attorney general office’s initiation of criminal proceedings against the FIFA chief over a two million Swiss franc ($2.1 million) payment made to the Frenchman in 2011.
Both deny any wrongdoing.
Platini was dealt a further blow on Friday when the English FA withdraw its pledge to support him in the FIFA presidential election.
Niersbach was long seen as ‘Mr Clean’, having joined FIFA’s Executive Committee as recently as May and having no involvement with the scandals that have plagued the authority in recent years.
As the investigations into FIFA and UEFA widened, calls for Niersbach to step in and help world football recover grew louder with former UEFA president Lennart Johansson saying the German was the perfect choice to lead the European body.
The 64-year-old former sports journalist had repeatedly been asked whether he had planned to run for either position but his answers were often more cryptic than revealing with Niersbach keeping his cards close to his chest.
“I do not want and I will not shy away from playing my part,” Niersbach said this week.
Any thoughts of actually throwing his hat into the ring will now have to be put on the back burner as German politicians, stunned by Der Spiegel allegations, called for a detailed investigation into the affair.
“It is a scandal of the DFB and this is something we cannot accept. The world’s biggest football federation must do everything in its powers to clear this up,” said Green Party Member of Parliament Ozcan Mutlu, who is a member of the parliamentary committee on sport.
“We expect this as sports politicians and we expect this as a society from everyone who was involved in that World Cup,” said Mutlu, a fierce critic of FIFA.
Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas also waded in, calling for a thorough investigation into the claims.
“These allegations must be investigated uncompromisingly. Football fans have the rights for that,” Maas wrote on Twitter.
With any probe likely to raise further questions and possibly open more damaging wounds, Niersbach’s chances of running for one of soccer’s top posts are looking more remote than ever in the current climate.
($1 = 0.8814 euros, 0.9530 Swiss francs)
Editing by John O'Brien