Senior Japanese and Korean football officials tell INSIDER Bin Hammam’s football career in Asia is finished (Getty)

(WFI) With suspended president of the Asian Football Confederation Mohamed Bin Hammam fighting for his football life after being accused of bribery, the continent’s biggest federations are already turning their minds to who will succeed the embattled Qatari.

In conversation with high-ranking figures in Japanese and Korean football, INSIDER was informed that not only is Bin Hammam regarded in Asia as finished, and was even before reports of new evidence came to light earlier this week, but candidates have already started campaigning to replace him.

It promises to be quite a battle.

Zhang Jilong is the acting president of the confederation but the Chinese official, who took the position as part of his role as senior vice-president, is not necessarily the favourite to get the job on a permanent basis.

East Asian football is once again divided – giving a candidate who can attract the support of the majority of West Asian nations a huge advantage in a bid to capture the majority of the confederation’s 46 members.

“The strongest candidate at the moment is Sheikh Salman [Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa],” a well-placed source told INSIDER, referring to the president of the Bahraini Football Association who challenged Bin Hammam for his seat on FIFA’s Executive Committee in 2009 in a bitter election campaign that the Qatari won by just two votes.

“He has already been campaigning in West Asia and already has significant support for any forthcoming election. He has the money and the contacts to mount a serious challenge.”

Salman was supported by Japan and Korea in 2009 – Seoul organised much of his campaign against Bin Hammam – but will not find the same help in any election for the presidency.

General Secretary of the Japanese FA Kohzo Tashima is a member of the AFC’s Executive Committee and a possible contender.

Japan’s relationship with the AFC is not warm and the country is constantly looking for ways to increase its influence in the organisation. JFA president Junji Ogura would be seen as a potential winner but AFC’s age limit for candidates is 70, ruling out the popular 72-year-old.

“Kohzo Tashima may decide to run for the position but it is far from certain he would

Acting Asian football boss Zhang Jilong is not the favourite to succeed Bin Hammam (Getty)

win,” another source said.

“Korea would probably support a Japanese candidate but China would probably not while Japan is unlikely to back Zhang.”

East Asia looks to unite around one candidate

China and Japan vie for power in Asia with Tokyo concerned that Beijing is getting the upper hand. Despite South Korea’s presidency of the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF), the body is dominated by China and the majority of the ten members would back Zhang.

Such disunity is good news for Sheikh Salman.

The Manchester United fan is well-regarded in the east. He impressed with the way he conducted himself in the election campaign in 2009 when he came under personal attack from Bin Hammam and the manner in which he accepted the narrow defeat in the poll. There are doubts, however, as to whether he would be the right man to be the president.

“Bin Hammam was well experienced and contrary to what many people think, he tried to be fair when it came to East and West Asia but we are afraid that Sheikh Salman may not,” said one AFC official.

“It is felt that a president from East Asia would be better overall for the development of the region and Asia as a whole.

“It is Japan and Korea as well as Australia that perform the best in Asia but if the balance of power shift to the west is confirmed with the next president then western nations will control all of the important procedures.”

If East Asia can’t unite around one candidate then compromises may be supported.

AFC vice-president Prince Abdullah Ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah of Malaysia has been identified as a possible runner and would be more palatable to East Asia than Salman.

It has also been suggested that Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who replaced Korea’s influential Chung Mong-joon on FIFA’s Executive Committee in January, could throw his hat into the ring though at the age of 35, it may be a little soon for the Jordanian.

FIFA’s ethics committee is currently investigating Bin Hammam over allegations
that he gave $40,000 cash bribes to 25 Caribbean Football Union members
at a meeting in Trinidad on May 10 and 11 in a bid to win their votes in the FIFA
presidential election race.

He has denied all wrongdoing, despite a leaked copy of the ethics committee report on the Qatari and former CONCACAF president Jack Warner that said there was “convincing and overwhelming” evidence that they were involved in trying to bribe CFU members. Warner quit FIFA on Monday, but Bin Hammam continues to protest his innocence.

By John Duerden in Seoul

Twitter: @johnnyduerden

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