The race to succeed Sepp Blatter is being led, at this point, by Michel Platini but the dark horse might well be Platini’s playing contemporary, Zico. Two of the most stylish players of their era, their face-off in the Mexico World Cup in 1986 was a classic game that eventually went France’s way after a penalty shoot-out. They chose opposite paths after their careers finished. Platini has been at the top levels of football administration for more than 20 years and currently heads UEFA, the nodal European football association. Zico went into coaching and travelled the world plying his trade. And while Platini has blotted his copybook by his proximity to the Qatar mess—he voted for that country to stage the 2022 World Cup and has consistently backed his decision since, in the face of public outrage—Zico has steered clear of the controversy.

Arthur Antunes Coimbra, to give him his full name, is unarguably the greatest Brazilian footballer never to have won the World Cup. Known as the “white Pele", he was part of the 1980s Brazil team that thrilled the world with its exciting, attacking style of play but fell short of the ultimate prize. His coaching career took him to half a dozen countries in Asia and eastern Europe (including India, where he coached FC Goa in the ISL) and he is still revered in Japan, where he was both successful player and coach. In fact, he was he first global star to commit to the fledgling J-League when it launched in the early 1990s, a sign of his ability to spot and back trends early on.

For all the honours he won as a player, he has little administrative experience. In 1990, he accepted an invitation to become Brazil’s first minister for sport but it ended with his resigning in frustration over opposition to his efforts to clean up football administration. He is a product of highly political times, though; Brazil in the 1980s was in a state of huge flux, making the transition from brutal dictatorship to democracy. Footballers, as the icons of civil society, were part of that change; Socrates, the Brazil captain, formed an official pro-democracy group in his club Corinthians and when they won the league they wore jerseys with “Democracia" printed on them.

That political and social awareness has stayed with Zico and has possibly prompted him to jump into the FIFA fray. He refused to be part of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup organizing committee, after personal ethics-based issues with those heading it, but supported it from the sidelines. Not without qualifications, though; he criticized the inefficiency that led to spiralling costs and, before the tournament started, said he was concerned that the very public and vocal anti-World Cup protests would dampen the overall mood.

The eventual success of last year’s World Cup, on the field and especially off it, must have helped him make up his mind. Football is a hugely emotive issue in Brazil—almost everything is, as in India—and the World Cup has helped restore among the people some of the romance and relevance that corruption had stripped away.

Zico will face stiff competition in the elections; his clean reputation and goodwill across the globe might ultimately not count for much in the face of realpolitik and the interests of big money. But just as cricket fans want the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid to take over and clean up the BCCI, however wishful and wistful that may be, there’s a part of every football lover that would want Zico to succeed. Even if he doesn’t, Zico versus Platini will ensure another great match.

Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor of Espncricinfo and a Mint columnist

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