Brazil soccer legend and former Japan national team coach Zico told Kyodo News in an exclusive interview Monday that he believes his knowledge and experience of the game make him the best man to clean up FIFA.
Currently coaching FC Goa in the Indian Super League, the 62-year-old Zico is making a late run at soccer’s top job and says that if his record is put up against any of the other FIFA presidential candidates, he prevails every time.
“I dare any candidate of FIFA to come and present a curriculum such as mine,” Zico, who scored 52 goals for Brazil, told Kyodo News from India.
“If I cannot become FIFA president with my CV, I ask anyone to explain what kind of experience and CV one needs to become FIFA president. Does he need to be famous, to be president of a federation? No, he needs to know football from the moment the ball touches the grass to the moment people close their eyes and leave the stadium and go to bed happy with the experience they had.”
With the deadline for presidential nominations falling on Monday, Zico is still canvassing for the five association nominations required to join the race — before he misses his chance.
If successful he would join a field including Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussain, who lost May’s election to Sepp Blatter, former Blatter aide Jerome Champagne and Trinidad and Tobago’s David Nekhid as likely runners, alongside an expected bid by Bahrain’s current Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa.
“I know what it means to have passion, to work, to sacrifice, to leave the family for months just to develop and work in football,” said Zico.
“I was born in football, I was raised in football, I became a professional in football and today I teach football, and I think this gives me a lot of possibilities, especially off the pitch where I did learn a lot,” he said.
Zico points to his time outside of soccer’s traditional political epicenter as positive for his candidacy, and is positioning himself as an outsider in an attempt to coalesce diverse support to take FIFA out of the “dirty swamp” in which he thinks it is mired.
“The way FIFA is today is one of the saddest moments in sport,” he said. “Alone I cannot change that. I need the help of as many people as possible and I need the support of everyone in football.”
“I hope that this intolerable situation will be broken and I ask people in Asia and everywhere in the world to support the idea of a football player, a football coach and a football manager, somebody who always had left open doors wherever he was to come with me and change FIFA together.”
Zico, who guided Japan to the Asian Cup title in 2004 as well as to the World Cup two years later in Germany, was lured out of retirement as a player to move to Japan in 1991 ahead of the start of the fledgling J. League.
In Japan he developed a strong association with both Kashima Antlers and Japanese soccer, before going on to have stints in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Russia, Greece, Iraq, Qatar and now India.
“Working in three continents means I have a vision not many people have in football, above all because I worked in markets where we were starting from scratch and I don’t think a single candidate can offer this in this election,” he said.
“For example, in Japan where there was not yet a professional league I helped by playing, by managing, by working with politicians and with fans and with youth at all possible levels. Japan was part of my upbringing as a complete football person.
“In Uzbekistan, where I worked very strongly, we developed football at a high level, and then I worked with two top teams in Europe, Fenerbahce and Olympiakos, and that’s not something anyone can do.
“I learned how to come from an undeveloped soccer country to very developed countries such as Greece and Turkey, and above all worked for the national team of Brazil.”
Since the disgraced Blatter stood aside after his re-election in May, FIFA has been plagued by almost constant scandal, with the man once seen as president-in-waiting, Michel Platini, seeing his reputation tainted by accusations of receiving undocumented payments that were deemed a conflict of interest.
“Let’s use the right people and the right path for the good of football,” pleaded Zico.
“Today, FIFA has a chance to change and our beloved game has the chance to survive and I hope I am passing on that message, a message of love for the game, of passion for the game, of respect for the ball, and above all of union among people — not of this dirty swamp that FIFA is in today.”