Maradona's road to FIFA presidency filled with obstacles

If Diego Maradona is serious about running for the FIFA presidency, he still has a lot of work to do just to get on the ballot. 

The former Argentina soccer star with a history of on- and-off-the field controversy would need to persuade five of FIFA’s member associations to nominate him and then pass an integrity check. 

Maradona’s desire to run for FIFA’s top job was reported by Victor Hugo Morales, a journalist close to the retired great. 

Morales, who hosts a show on the regional network Telesur, said on Twitter that Maradona told him he plans to be candidate. 

FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced this month that he would be stepping down – four days after being elected for a fifth term – amid a U.S. probe into $150 million in bribes allegedly paid to top soccer officials. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro immediately called for Maradona to replace him. 

Maradona has been a high-profile supporter of Venezuela’s socialist government and a sharp critic of corruption in soccer. 

Maradona’s long list of provocative incidents would seem to go against the image that soccer’s world governing body will want to embrace as it digs out from its worst scandal. 

Among other things: 

  • Maradona has tax problems in Italy, where his debts total tens of millions of dollars accrued from his 1984-91 stint playing with Napoli 
  • He was suspended for 15 months in April 1991 for testing positive for cocaine while playing for Napoli 
  • He was banished from the 1994 World Cup for doping. He tested positive for five types of stimulants and diet pills after a group-stage match against Nigeria 
  • He was accused of cheating when he punched in the “Hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup, where he inspired Argentina to the title 
  • In 1994, Maradona fired an air gun at reporters and was given a two-year suspended sentence. Last year, he slapped a journalist in the face and called him an “idiot” outside a theater in Buenos Aires 
  • His tumultuous personal life has often been a target for local media in Argentina. 

In the often mysterious world of FIFA politics, it is far from clear which five of the 209 members would choose to nominate Maradona and why they would do it. 

Cuba is perhaps one country which could back him, having welcomed Maradona as a regular visitor to his friend Fidel Castro. 

Venezuela is another ally because of Maduro’s vocal support. 

Still, FIFA’s rules prohibiting political interference in soccer could complicate those potential nominations. 

It is difficult to see Maradona’s native Argentina nominating him, given the dire state of relations that existed between him and long-time federation president Julio Grondona, who died last July. 

Grondona’s allies and entourage still have influence and a request to support Maradona’s nomination would likely be seen as an insult to the former strongman of Argentine football. 

Maradona also appeared to wear out his welcome in the United Arab Emirates, the only country where he coached since leading Argentina at the 2010 World Cup. 

Many soccer officials worldwide still support Blatter and will not have forgotten Maradona’s language toward the now-outgoing FIFA president during his recent re-election campaign. 

“I think we have a good chance to kick [Sepp] Blatter in the rear end – without a doubt,” Maradona said in April. 

Even if Maradona secured the required backers, his problems to get on the ballot paper would only just be starting. 

FIFA election rules require mandatory integrity checks for presidential hopefuls within 10 days before they are officially accepted as candidates. 

The checks are overseen by FIFA’s election monitor – audit and compliance committee chairman Domenico Scala – and performed by the investigation chamber of the governing body’s ethics committee. That panel is chaired by Swiss prosecutor Cornel Borbely, who succeeded his former boss Michael Garcia last December. 

Scala could also rule on whether Maradona fulfils the basic election requirement of holding official positions in soccer for at least two of the five years before election day. Maradona’s coaching spell with UAE club Al Wasl lasted just over a year in 2011-12. 

© 2015, Associated Press 

Argentina football legend Diego Maradona seems likely to run for president of FIFA. – Photo: AP