FourFourTwo’s 100 most influential people in football right now: 30-21
Words: Alex Hess, Emyr Price, Seb Stafford-Bloor, Amit Katwala.
30. Dmitry Rybolovlev
Another beneficiary from the free-for-all privatisation project of post-Soviet Russia, Rybolovlev (net worth: $7.3bn; value of personal art collection: $2bn) made his fortune from producing potassium fertiliser.
In 2011 he decided to buy a football club, opting for the one set among the casinos, yachts and generous tax rates of Monte Carlo. Back then, Monaco were a fallen giant in France’s second tier; six years later, they sit proudly as imminent French champions, and reached the Champions League semi-finals one of Europe’s most exciting young teams.
Perhaps not surprisingly, his wealth has not come without significant controversies. His company has been repeatedly named by environmentalists as repeat offenders regarding industrial-scale pollution, and in 1996 he was jailed for providing the weapons with which one of his business associates was murdered – a crime for which he was later set free after a witness recanted his testimony.
Last year the Football Leaks website alleged him to have been tampering with his player’s market prices through illegal third-party ownership strategies. And in March this year, a spokesperson for Rybolovlev was forced to publicly deny any financial connection between he and Donald Trump, whose possible links to Russian figures are subject to an ongoing FBI inquiry (Rybolovlev’s family trust paid $95m in 2008 to buy a Palm Beach mansion from the then-Apprentice star).
Oddly for a club funded by a sugar daddy, Rybolovlev’s Monaco have excelled amid a period of relative austerity: his early lavishness was curtailed by his protracted and eye-wateringly expensive divorce – originally $4.5bn, reduced to $600m on appeal but later settled for good undisclosed – and the high-flying, high-scoring Monaco of 2017 are remarkable for being a team without any bona fide superstars. But make no mistake: it was Rybolovlev’s millions that got them here. AH
Measuring YouTube's influence on football is relatively straightforward. Just think back to when it didn't exist.
Where in 2006, for instance, would you have found a highlights 'welcome' reels for West Ham’s newest recruits – lads by the names of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano? Those videos would have got 100,000 hits apiece in their first day.
Great for the fans, then, but clubs themselves were unsure how to utilise the service to begin with. It played an integral part in Kevin Keegan's departure from Newcastle in 2008, as he refused a sanction a £2 million deal for Uruguayan Ignacio Gonzalez – a player that then-director of football Dennis Wise had sourced from YouTube without previously having seen play. With Wise forcing the move through, the player arrived, and Keegan duly went.
Nowadays, it's something harnessed by any club worth it's salt on the planet. Manchester City were the British pioneers. According to head of CityTV Michael Russell in 2009, they recognised that: "In terms of growing an audience, there is no better place than Youtube." Today, City have the third-highest number of subscribers for any sporting franchise in the world.
Then there are the YouTube ‘stars’; channels featuring various personalities, skill-based tricksters and gaming gurus who continue to influence a brand new generation of football fans. The game has changed. EP
28. Vitaly Mutko
A person of undoubted influence, but whose political career has compromised his football powers. Between 2008 and 2016, Mutko was Russia’s minister of sport, before being promoted to deputy Prime Minister in October.
He’s also the head of the Russian football union but, as of March of this year, FIFA barred his attempts at re-election to their council, citing concerns over political neutrality.
Nevertheless, he remains in charge of his country’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup and will help to shape global perceptions before, during and after the competition.
Russia’s successful bid was suspected to have relied on the “habits” of many former FIFA ExCo members and, unfairly or otherwise, is tainted by association. A successful and peaceful delivery is imperative but, given the myriad issues which challenge Russian football, remains highly optimistic. It’s a mighty challenge. SSB
27. Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa
President of both the Asian and the Bahrain Football Associations, and one of Gianni Infantino’s beaten rivals in the 2016 FIFA presidential election.
A controversial figure, Sheikh Salman’s campaign was undermined by repeated accusations of human rights violations in the aftermath of the 2011 pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.
He does, though, hold significant influence nonetheless: in his current role, Salman’s principle focus lies in eradicating match-fixing and general corruption from Asian football. Naturally, he exerts great authority over the Asian Champions League, which he seeks to enhance and diversify, and he will also be a substantial figure in the early delivery stages of the 2022 World Cup (and the competition itself, depending on his re-election and career trajectory). SSB
26. Ahmad Ahmad
In March, Ahmad – the head of the Madagascan FA – shocked the world by ousting Issa Hayatou and becoming president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Cameroonian Hayatou had held the position for 29 years and, quite understandably, his loss is seen as the beginning of a new day for African football.
Ahmad has certainly made the right impression: reform is front and centre of his manifesto and, on taking power in March, he refused to accept a salary for his new position and emphasised the need for transparency across all positions within the federation.
Making promises and delivering upon them may be two different tasks, but Ahmad is evidently not under any illusion as to the scale of the job: he has promised a full review of all CAF competitions – including the Africa Cup of Nations and the African Nations Championship – and has stressed the importance of developing a proper separation of powers within the organisation. SSB