FIFA Candidate Van Praag: "I Can Change Minds"

(ATR) Michael Van Praag expects to hear next week that he has won support for his FIFA presidency campaign.

V(ATR) Michael Van Praag tells Around the Rings he expects to hear next week that he has won more support for his campaign to unseat FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

The Dutch FA president launched his bid at a press conference in Amsterdam on Wednesday, afterwards spending more than two-and-a-half hours speaking to mainly Dutch TV, radio and written press. ATR, the BBC and the Times were the only British media in attendance.

The 67-year-old is calling for a clean and transparent race after the cash-for-votes scandal on the eve of the 2011 FIFA presidential contest which led to Mohamed Bin Hammam’s downfall and allowed Sepp Blatter to secure another term unopposed.

"I have the feeling that with the candidates that we are welcoming you have a guarantee for that," Van Praag said.

"I am announcing in a few weeks’ time my concrete plan. I do it open and transparent and then we have to see if whether the world responds to that or not and if they don’t then it means that the majority of the countries want to keep things as they are.

"Today I have a strong belief that I can change the minds of a lot of people."

Van Praag decided to run for the FIFA presidency in December, six months after attacking Blatter’s leadership at a stormy UEFA Congress in Sao Paulo and in explosive comments to media immediately after the meeting.

The Dutchman said he only informed the UEFA Executive Committee on Monday that he would be standing, having solicited the support of the necessary five federations – Belgium, Faroe Islands, Romania, Scotland and Sweden.

Asked if believed he had a much bigger base of support in Europe, Van Praag suggested in modest terms that he did.

"It is a bid arrogant to say ‘oh I think I have 15, oh I think I have 20'. I better wait," he said.

"Only five countries knew what I was going to do, the countries who wrote me the letter. For the others they go the news on Monday. So I have to give them time to digest this and to have a meeting and to talk it over. Then we will see.

"But here and there I hear that I have support. For sure next week I know more."

With vocal backing from five of the six confederations for the Swiss incumbent, Van Praag and his rivals – likely to be Prince Ali Bin Al-Husseinand former Portuguese star Luis Figo once FIFA has assessed their eligibility to run – face an uphill battle to secure the top job in world football.

On Monday, Van Praag will sit down with his campaign team to plot his strategy for the coming four months, which will see him criss-crossing the globe in pursuit of votes from FIFA’s 209 member associations. The FIFA election is in Zurich on May 29.

Which confederations does he have a good chance of stealing votes from Blatter?

"I can only answer that question after I have met those people and I have no clue at the moment. The majority of them I don’t even know," he candidly admitted, revealing the scale of the task ahead.

He emphasized the importance of listening to all federations on his global travels to gauge what issues in world football they wanted to see addressed.

So does he have a realistic chance of ousting Blatter?

"I don’t say that I think I can beat Blatter. But I think that I have a good plan, I have good ideas. I expect that I am able to convince a few countries," he said.

Van Praag compared the FIFA presidential election to a David v Goliath upset in a Cup match: "Anything can happen."

His star backers include some of the most famous names in Dutch football of the last few decades including Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal "one of my best friends".

"I already have the backing of Ruud Gullit. And Johan Cruyff is only holiday in Africa. Johan Cruyff doesn’t have a mobile phone so I cannot reach him. He’s away for a few weeks. But I will certainly call him," he said, joking that the Dutch legend was already lobbying African federations on his behalf.

On Wednesday, Van Praag unveiled his plan to be an interim president of FIFA from 2015 to 2019, a single term, before handing over to a younger leader.

He will set out his full modernisation plan in February.

Written by Mark Bisson

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