Tough tackler

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Yousuf Al Serkal (right) shown here with Korea Football Association president Cho Chung Yun

Yousuf Al Serkal (right) shown here with Korea Football Association president Cho Chung Yun

It is commonly known as the beautiful game, but the recent history of football in Asia has been decidedly ugly.

The Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) last president was banned from the sport for life in 2011 over allegations he bribed officials, while in the last year match-fixing scandals have rocked the game in South Korea, China, Lebanon and Malaysia.

The continent has barely had the chance to bask in Qatar’s victorious bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup either, which has faced accusations ranging from the vote being thrown to players not being able to perform in the Gulf state’s summer heat.

Emirati Yousuf Al Serkal is one of four men hoping to repair Asian football’s tarnished image across the bloc of 47 nations, with the vote on the new president of the continent’s football governing body to take place in Kuala Lumpur on May 2.

If he wins, Al Serkal will have a tough gig ahead of him. The AFC’s last president, Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam, was fired in 2011 following a probe into allegations he bribed Caribbean officials while running for presidency of FIFA, world football’s administrator. Bin Hammam has always insisted the charges were “trumped up”.

While campaigning, Al Serkal has been at pains to distance himself from bin Hammam. Al Serkal, currently president of the UAE Football Association and vice-president of the AFC, worked directly underneath Bin Hammam during his presidency, but insists that his close relationship with the disgraced Qatari will not work against him.

“We come from the same region, we came from neighbouring countries, we’ve known each other for a long time,” he admits. “Yes, I am a close friend of Bin Hammam, but that friendship had nothing to do with the work we used to do. I always had different ideas, opinions and conflicts in opinion with Bin Hammam.”

“My credibility... regardless of what actions were taken against whoever it was from AFC, it did not touch me at all,” Al Serkal reasserts.

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