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When Swiss-Italian bureaucrat Gianni Infantino took over FIFA in 2016, his primary credential was that no one knew anything about him. He was youngish, had soft eyes and was not obviously slippery.

After years of cartoonish corruption in the organization – a member once asked a British delegate for a knighthood in return for a vote; another top official expensed a Manhattan apartment strictly for his cats – all anyone wanted Infantino to do was remain anonymous and shoot straight.

Predictably, that has become a problem.

It started over the summer in Russia during the World Cup. Infantino seemed just a little too enamoured of the spotlight. He made sure to place himself at all times in proximity of powerful people, and especially Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The sight of the two of them awkwardly kicking a ball around in a promo video filmed inside Putin’s Kremlin office gave you a bad, Neville Chamberlain sort of feel. Infantino delivered rambling speeches about soccer as a “virus” that should “infect” the world, which suggested his touch with language had been oversold.

(Sample quote: “The football virus was injected into me when I was a kid.”)

Like so many of his predecessors, Infantino began giving off a hot, messianic glow. He was going to expand soccer – as if a sport already played in every corner of the world where the ground is flat needed expanding.

In order to do so, he would need money. And though FIFA has an ungodly amount, he would need a lot more.

That put him in the orbit of the Saudi royal family. Infantino has been chumming up to them quite a bit in the past while – multiple visits and friendly photo-ops.

Back in spring, Infantino came up with an apparently unconnected idea that he claims would reap US$25-billion in returns.

First, he’d boost the Nations League’s profile – a pygmy World Cup no one cares about. Then he’d take the Club World Cup – a meaningless annual tournament even fewer people care about between the championship teams of each continent – and massively expand it.

Seven teams would become 24. Half of those clubs would come from Europe. The event would be moved from a few days in December to a multiweek outing in summer. Cue the sound of cash registers.

This may sound vaguely familiar to you because this event already exists. It’s called the Champions League. It happens in Europe, between Europeans. Because it’s the Barcelonas, Manchester Uniteds and Bayern Munichs of the world who have done the hard work over decades of turning the sport into a global monolith.

Infantino is proposing two twists – spoon in a few clubs from, say, North America, Asia and Africa that no one gives a damn about to spice the broth, and then FIFA keeps all the money.

Who knew business was so easy? You just find a product that sells and slap your own sticker on the box.

UEFA, the organizers of the Champions League, are not best pleased by this suggestion. The harshest insult they’ve been able to come up with is “cynical,” which shows you just how gobsmacked they are.

FIFA has invited UEFA to a picnic and offered to supply the blanket. In turn, UEFA has to bring all the food and buy FIFA the park.

That’s not the best part. In order to get this done, Infantino needs someone else to pay the startup cost. One of those someones is Japanese outfit SoftBank. SoftBank is in turn partially underwritten by the Saudi sovereign fund.

The Saudis have an affinity for image laundering using the vehicle of sport. This would be their greatest coup – getting Lionel Messi and Friends together each year for fun, frolic and selfies with the crown prince.

Six months ago, this was a thing. This week, it is a thing.

What’s your first move once you realize you’ve wandered into a minefield? Having never done so myself, I would think it is to remain very still, wet your pants and then cry. After a little consideration, you might want to start slowly backing up.

Infantino is in one now and he is apparently charging forward, kicking dirt as he goes. FIFA’s executive will meet Friday in Rwanda. The Club World Cup proposal remains on the itinerary. UEFA is deeply opposed, but everyone else sees the sense in it. Why wouldn’t they? They’re getting rich on someone else’s dime.

Infantino’s predecessor, Sepp Blatter, was not brought down by personal greed. His trick was giving everyone around him permission to corrupt themselves, in return for their support.

Infantino is taking the scam to new, legal heights. There’s no more need of backhanders. Instead, you fleece your colleagues. Europe and the Saudis pay for the tournament. Every other national association reaps the benefit.

This is international soccer eating itself. It’s posh cannibalism.

Of course, the real loser in these proposals is the average fan. One great tournament becomes two mediocre ones. The World Cup surrenders more of its lustre (and will lose more still in 2026 when it expands from 32 to 48 teams – another Infantino brainwave).

What used to be a limited and precious resource – soccer that matters featuring only the best players alive – gets watered down to nothingness.

Some day, when we’re being battered by 12-months-of-the-year soccer, none of which seems any different than anything else and no longer bothered to care, we’ll wonder how this all happened.

FIFA did.

In their upside-down world, that’s how you grow the game – by shrinking it.

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