Ranking the 10 most powerful people in global soccer
Who are the 10 most powerful figures in world soccer? Here's my list:
The Machiavellian Swiss strongman has stayed in power as FIFA president since 1998, not least because the last two elections have had just one candidate: Sepp Blatter. Yes, he has presided over an organization often viewed as corrupt, and yes, he has a history of tone-deaf verbal gaffes, but the FIFA World Cup remains the crown jewel of global sports, and the 76-year-old Blatter bestrides it.
The chief executive of the English Premier League has overseen rampant growth in the past 14 years, with 212 countries and territories now broadcasting the world's most-watched domestic sports league. That includes the U.S., where NBC Sports recently dropped $250 million for the next three years of Premier League rights.
The owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took over the storied soccer club Manchester United in 2005, and while the Glazers have drawn the ire of United fans (for larding the club with significant debt), the results on the field have been solid. United is well on its way to the club's 20th English league championship, an all-time record.
The mega-wealthy sheikh from the United Arab Emirates has changed the balance of power in the English Premier League since buying Manchester City in 2008. Once the lightly regarded "noisy neighbors" to Manchester United, Man City has spent nearly a billion dollars on players in the past five years and last season won its first English title since 1967-68 in a dramatic final-day comeback victory. We could include a number of other Premier League owners on this list (Chelsea's Roman Abramovich, Arsenal's E. Stan Kroenke), but we'd like to add some diversity.
Qatari money is everywhere in world soccer these days, and almost all of it goes back to the royal family, which has funded the successful bid to host World Cup 2022; the takeover and star power of Paris Saint-Germain; a $225 million shirt sponsorship with FC Barcelona; and the BeIN Sport channels in France and the United States, as well as Al Jazeera.
How many sports are dirtier than soccer? Not many, that's for sure. A recent Europol investigation revealed what most of us already knew: Match-fixing is rampant around the world. Meanwhile, FIFA has yet to rid itself of its reputation as an unclean organization, highlighted by the fiasco surrounding the bid process for World Cups 2018 and 2022. How serious are the people in charge about fighting it?
Players matter -- they are the talent, remember -- and the remarkable Messi has won the last four world player of the year awards by the age of 25. Already deservedly in the conversation among the best players of all time, Messi would probably seal it if he could lead Argentina to the World Cup title next year. As he gets older, will Messi start using his voice more to influence things off the field?
The UEFA president and former French midfield superstar is expected to run for FIFA president in 2015, and he has shown a surprisingly astute legislative talent over the years, including pushing for Financial Fair Play to rein in the Wild West spending in some European leagues. He's still unpredictable, though. It was Platini whose vote for Qatar turned the 2022 World Cup hosting bid away from the U.S. to the Qataris.
He may be 37 years old and not the player he once was, but Beckham can still move product, and the demand for him as a global pitchman/symbol of England remains high. Paris Saint-Germain signed him to sell shirts as much as help on the field, and China just hired Becks to help improve the image of its soccer league. Brand Beckham is alive and thriving.
The biggest growth in soccer TV rights buys anywhere in the world is taking place in the United States, whether it's for World Cups 2018 and '22 (a combined $1.1 billion for Telemundo's Spanish-language and Fox Sports' English-language rights) or for the next three seasons of the English Premier League (NBC Sports' $250 million buy). If MLS is going to reach its goal of becoming one of the world's top leagues by 2022, it will have to start getting better TV ratings -- and get the big TV contract that any truly major league has.