By Paul Kennedy
By all accounts, Sunil Gulati
, president of U.S. Soccer, played a pivotal role in the election of
as FIFA president.
If you watched Fox Sports' wall-to-wall coverage of Friday's FIFA Congress in Zurich, you'd have watched via the “SunilCam”
Gulati arguing projected vote totals on the executive committee stage with Sheikh Ahmad
of Kuwait, Sheikh Salman
's handler, as the first-round ballots were being counted and then
huddling with Infantino between rounds before scurrying to find Prince Ali
and Sheikh Salman voters and convince them to switch to Infantino in the second round.
What began as a
three-vote advantage for Infantino over Sheikh Salman after Round 1 became a 27-vote victory in Round 2.
"Gulati got a FIFA president he wanted, and he showed that the U.S. has emerged as
a force on the world scene," reported SI.com
's Grant Wahl
. "The United States played a
key role in the intense lobbying that saw Gianni Infantino elected FIFA president on Friday," wrote Simon Evans
in his post-election analysis. The headline in the Los Angeles Times
: "Sunil Gulati pulls some serious strings to help soccer in the U.S."
many votes Gulati swayed -- and from what confederations and what camps -- is not known. All that you needed to see, though, was FIFA delegates coming up to congratulate Gulati to know what was the
view from the floor.
Tellingly, Gulati smiled when the New York Times
' Sam Borden
asked him what
was the composition of Infantino's voters: “I’m much more familiar with how it got to 115 than the first 88."
The Congress floor theatrics would not have been possible without
the key move: U.S. Soccer's decision to stick with Gulati's old friend, Prince Ali, whom it had nominated and supported in the May 2015 election against then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter
would argue there was no love lost between Prince Ali and Sheikh Salman, and Prince Ali's voters would automatically have switched to Infantino. But Infantino needed someone to work the floor for him
with Prince Ali's blessing, and that's where Gulati came in.
What's next for Gulati? France Football reported Infantino would pick someone from Concacaf to be FIFA's new secretary general
as payback for its late support for him. Reuters
reported speculation in Zurich was that Gulati would be a good
choice for the FIFA CEO role.
It would be hard to imagine Gulati giving up his day job -- Columbia University Senior Lecturer of Economics -- to work at FIFA full-time. After all, his
work at U.S. Soccer won't be finished until it is awarded the 2026 World Cup and avenges the stinging defeat to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights five years ago. (On Monday night, Gulati said
, "We can host a World Cup relatively easily. We can do it
On the FIFA front, Gulati is where he needs to be. Overshadowed by Friday's presidential election was passage of sweeping reforms
that will change the way FIFA operates. Just as much as Infantino's election was
a victory, so were the FIFA reforms for Gulati, who headed the small but growing reform wing of the FIFA executive committee.
Indeed, Gulati's ability to help get Infantino elected
reflected his growing influence on the exco. Gulati's close friendship with Prince Ali stems from their efforts to push change on the exco after he was elected in 2013 and in the face of extreme
Since then, the voices of reform have grown with the addition of Englishman David Gill
and Australian Moya Dodd
. German Wolfgang Niersbach
's future on
the exco is in doubt as he has become embroiled in the German federation scandal stemming from its 2006 World Cup bid.
For others like Tunisian Tarek Bouchamaoui
, the recent shift
in the FIFA tides will allow them to become even more outspoken about change. (If anything, the big losers in Friday's election were the old African and Asian political machines.)
has been on the FIFA executive committee less than three years and he is already the ninth most senior member of the 25-person body that has been decimated by the FIFA scandal. (Twelve exco members
who served with Gulati or quit before he was elected have been indicted or pleaded guilty to Federal corruption charges. And that doesn't include former UEFA president Michel Platini
Blatter, who are serving six-year soccer bans.)
Gulati's influence will only grow as the FIFA executive committee is dissolved and the 36-member FIFA council replaces it.