New FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s first day in office was marked with rain, soaked boots and goal celebrations as some of football’s most enduring names travelled to Zurich to kick off a new chapter in FIFA’s history by competing in a small seven-a-side football tournament at the home of FIFA.
“Football is back at FIFA, and FIFA is back in football,” said President Infantino, standing on the pitch in his football kit, addressing the crowd of drenched but undeterred spectators huddled under umbrellas. "As of today, I'd like that when we speak about FIFA, we speak about football. That's why I arranged these games today," the President said.
The day's four competing teams, which comprised a wealth of talent from men’s and women’s football from all over the world, included names like Demetrio Albertini, Zvonimir Boban, Fabio Cannavaro, Stephane Chapuisat, Deco, Luis Figo, Fernando Hierro, Melanie Leupolz, Paolo Maldini, Geremi, Robert Pires, Clarence Seedorf, Andriy Shevchenko, Julia Simic, Kelly Smith, David Suazo and Gianluca Zambrotta.
All four teams played under the watchful eye of coach-for-the-day Fabio Capello. Amongst the various FIFA World Cup™ champions, FIFA Ballon d’Or winners and women’s football stars in attendance were the lesser-known names of FIFA employees eager to test themselves against the best. The President himself, wearing a No9 jersey and captaining a team that included Luis Figo and Julia Simic, was undeterred when taking on the defensive might of players like Zambrotta, Michel Salgado and Maldini.
“It is a symbolic act,” said 2010 World Cup winner Carles Puyol, remarking on the football taking place on the main pitch that runs alongside the main building, in which over 400 employees from 45 different countries spend their days working on administering football on a global scale. “If we talk about the football governing body, then it’s very positive to have the players playing an active role in it,” said Puyol.
“There’s a lot to do now,” said former Portugal international Deco, taking a break from his match to talk to FIFA.com pitch-side. “I think there will be a new direction, an important change in ideology and philosophy under the new President. I think FIFA has a strong mandate on paper, but getting it as close to reality in practice is now of most importance.”
1998 World Cup winner Robert Pires, who spent the afternoon playing alongside the likes of Andriy Shevchenko, Clarence Seedorf and Dario Simic, was positive about the day’s events. “It is really important that the new FIFA President organises a first day in the office like this, with former players at the very centre of the action,” he said. “That’s why when I got the call for me to come to Zurich today, I didn’t hesitate.”
“It’s an exciting time now,” said England record goalscorer Kelly Smith, who added some unofficial goals to her international tally during the tournament. “It’s a good thing for football that we’re moving forward,” she said. “I hope with the new President that FIFA can continue to raise the profile of the women’s game.”