KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The head of Asian football is poised to announce a bid for the Fifa presidency, a source told AFP on Friday, in a move that would dramatically reshape the election race.
Sheikh Salman Ebrahim al Khalifa could make a formal announcement as early as Friday and would be a serious contender given his position as the leader of Fifa's second-largest confederation.
A bid by the Bahraini royal would be another major blow to already suspended vice-president Michel Platini, whom he formerly backed for the Fifa job, and his Asian rival Prince Ali al-Hussein of Jordan.
Fifa has been thrown into turmoil with outgoing chief Sepp Blatter, former favourite Platini and South Korean candidate Chung Mong Joon all suspended, and corruption allegations engulfing the world body.
Despite mounting sleaze claims and criminal charges against senior figures including Blatter, Fifa elections are still planned to go ahead on Feb 26 with Platini among the candidates who have until Oct 26 to register.
The other potential contenders make up a varied group that includes Brazil's Zico, former Fifa deputy secretary-general Jerome Champagne and South African anti-apartheid campaigner Tokyo Sexwale.
It is a situation that could leave the way clear for the soft-spoken Sheikh Salman, who was a staunch backer of the corruption-tainted Blatter until recent months.
Sheikh Salman is also an unshakeable supporter of Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, whose controversial bidding process was the subject of an internal Fifa investigation.
The Manchester United fan and one-time accountancy dropout drifted between careers and even had a spell as a customs officer before turning his hand to football administration.
Backed by Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah, he won a landslide election in 2013 to succeed disgraced Qatari Mohamed Hammam as president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
In April, he strengthened his grip when he won a fresh four-year term unopposed and became a Fifa vice-president - taking a post previously held by Prince Ali - into the bargain.