(WFI) Jordan’s FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein today announced his intention to challenge Sepp Blatter for the presidency of world football’s governing body.

“This was not an easy decision. It came after careful consideration and many discussions with respected FIFA colleagues over the last few months,” he said in a statement following several mnonths of speculation that he might attempt to oust the Swiss.

“The message I heard, over and over, was that it is time for a change.”

Blatter’s nearly 17-year leadership has been plagued by scandals. Repercussions from Michael Garcia’s two-year probe of allegations of corruption and bribery in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding race has undermined the 78-year-old’s reforms process and quest to restore FIFA’s integrity. Garcia quit as FIFA’s chief ethics investigator last month over the botched handling of his bidding investigation – he claimed a summary of his 430-page report was “erroneous” and misleading.

Prince Ali is the youngest and most progressive official sitting at football’s top table. He has styled himself as a dynamic reformist on the FIFA ExCo since his election as Asia’s FIFA vice-president in 2011.

His FIFA presidential manifesto for root-and-branch change to the federation’s structure and governance will undoubtedly stir some significant debate ahead of the May election.

“I am seeking the presidency of FIFA because I believe it is time to shift the focus away from administrative controversy and back to sport,” said the head of the Jordanian FA.

“The world’s game deserves a world-class governing body — a service organisation and a model of ethics, transparency and good governance.

“The headlines should be about football, the beautiful sport, not about FIFA.”

After his dramatic U-turn on a 2011 pledge to step down in 2015, Blatter has spent the past 18 months drumming up support for his re-election among the 209 member associations of FIFA.

The Swiss is expected to officially announce his bid for a fifth term in the next two weeks – the deadline for candidacies is 29 January. Only Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA deputy general secretary, has so far declared his intention to challenge Blatter.

The FIFA presidential election takes place at the federation’s congress in Zurich on 29 May.

Presidential candidates require the nominations from five federations. Prince Ali has yet to reveal who is backing him.

He can certainly count on the support of UEFA president Michel Platini and many members of European football’s governing body, who in June called for Blatter to honour his vow to step aside in 2015. Platini has repeatedly called for the Swiss to quit, saying FIFA needs a “breath of fresh air”.

Prince Ali, who also heads the West Asian Football Federation, may find it much harder to win much support in his own backyard.

In September, Asian Football Confederation president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa joined his African counterpart, Issa Hayatou, in backing Blatter’s campaign for re-election. The Bahraini, a Blatter ally, can depend on the Swiss to help get him re-elected as AFC president in April – and is keen to return the favour.

The war of words between Prince Ali and Sheikh Salman over merging the FIFA vice-presidency seat for Asia with the AFC president’s seat has triggered divisions in Asian football, which may hinder help Prince Ali’s cause.

In June, the Bahraini won backing from 44 of the 45 voting federations for the proposal, meaning that Prince Ali will lose his FIFA vice-presidency in the coming months.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Prince Ali, who declined the opportunity to stand against Sheikh Salman for Asian football’s top job. If Salman is re-elected as AFC president in April, he will automatically assume the position of FIFA vice-president, which would free up a FIFA seat. With the FIFA ExCo terms of Thailand’s Worawi Makudi and China’s Zhang Jilong expiring this year, the Jordanian will challenge them for a seat on football’s ruling body at AFC elections.

And the Jordanian has nothing to lose in standing against Blatter.

But the Swiss, who turns 79 in March, will be nigh on impossible to remove, it seems.

Blatter can bank on the support of virtually all African’s 56 federations and many of Asia’s 47 football associations.

Their support was made plain at the AFC and CAF congresses in Sao Paulo before the Brazil World Cup, where Blatter launched a charm offensive and talked up the World Cup bonuses each federation would receive following the success of the Brazil World Cup. He received several standing ovations.

A good number of Europe’s votes appear to be up for grabs, following the storm of criticism that greeted Blatter at the UEFA Congress in Sao Paulo. But Blatter also has a stronghold of support in the South American federations.

CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, a Blatter ally touted as a FIFA presidential candidate in 2019, could have an influential role in this FIFA presidential race. If he decides to drop support for Blatter, claiming like Platini that the time has come for new leadership, he could bring support for Prince Ali from CONCACAF and possibly CONMEBOL.

But unless Webb himself enters the FIFA presidential race, also securing some support in Africa and Asia, and the votes are then spread between four candidates, it’s hard to see how Blatter’s quest for a fifth term will be derailed.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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