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New York • Victor Montagliani says he learned from a young age about the art of negotiation and politics.
"I knew which uncle would give me the five bucks for an ice cream before another uncle would," recalls the recently elected CONCACAF president, showing off a wide, mischievous smile.
Montagliani will need all the guile he can muster to restore his organization's battered reputation.
A successful insurance businessman and former amateur player, Montagliani spoke about the past, present and future of the regional soccer body in a wide-ranging round table last week. He touched on CONCACAF'S finances ("probably healthier than they've been in a long time"), the recently concluded Copa America Centenario (it was "dead" at one point), the dangers of future corruption scandals ("there's always an element of risk") and even the correct pronunciation of his last name (the "g" is silent, so it's "Mon-TEE'-lee-ah-nee").
The Canada federation leader was elected to the CONCACAF office in May, months after the organization's last three presidents were indicted in the U.S. in the overarching corruption and bribery scandal that also brought down the leadership of the South America confederation, known as Conmebol.
"If this was a private company, with the stuff we've gone through, there's no chance we would've survived," said Montagliani last Sunday in a Manhattan hotel, hours before Chile beat Argentina in a sold-out Copa America final in New Jersey. "I've been involved in a lot of private companies, and publicly traded companies, and if this scandal happened in some of the publicly traded companies I've served on, we're down, no chance."
Why did the business survive?
"One, the pitch, and watching the (Lionel) Messis and whatever of the world," Montagliani said. "The other one is the fans, who despite everything else, want to buy football, and want to consume football."
Montagliani knows it will be a long process before soccer can shed an image of corruption and unbridled greed, fueled by decades of leaders who promoted a culture of bribes and kickbacks.
There might still be more scandals along the way.
"We're not going to be here in 2017 and say 'we reformed football', because that's a lie," he said. "That's not going to happen. The reality is we're on a long journey here, and we're still going to have situations. In fact, if we don't, I'll be shocked."
Montagliani said CONCACAF and the other confederations have to impress upon member federations and its leaders the reforms approved by FIFA at its congress in Mexico City in May. Even so, he acknowledges there will always be risks when dealing with a multimillion dollar business that stretches all over the globe.
One of his first tasks was the hiring of former NBA vice president for Latin America, Philippe Moggio, as the new secretary general.
"There's only one way of eliminating risk: don't to business," Montagliani said. "What we're trying to do is mitigate the risk, trying to put in these reforms, we need to drill them down."
Montagliani said although the limits on terms and integrity checks have gotten more media attention, the core of the reform "was the money, in the sense of how the money came in and, as importantly, how the money goes out."
"Basic financial management 101 for those maybe in the financial sector," he added, "but something we didn't have in football."
Montagliani said the arrest of the CONCACAF and Conmebol leaders last year in Zurich, plus the indictment of the businessmen who owned the rights to Copa America, almost derailed the tournament played in the U.S from June 3-26.
"This tournament was dead" after the arrests in May of last year, Montagliani recalled. "It was sort of a Rubik's Cube to figure it out, but we figured it out."
The organizers had to tear up the contracts with the indicted rights holders. IMG and Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of Major League Soccer, won the bidding for the commercial rights in December, and had to scramble seven months before the tournament to negotiate new TV deals.
Conmebol and CONCACAF will split the Copa America revenue, with the South American confederation receiving two thirds of the money. Montagliani said they have to wait for the final numbers to know how much the North American body will get.
Organizers said Copa America games had an average attendance of 47,000.
"If we would've guaranteed the numbers, attendance and TV and all that, we probably would've had a different discussion eight months ago with people who were bidding for the TV rights," Montagliani said.
In other subjects:
Montagliani said CONCACAF will look into expanding its signature tournament Gold Cup, which is currently played every two years with 12 teams.
He said CONCACAF will invest more in its regional club tournament, the CONCACAF Champions League. "We want to send a message right away, we believe in this product, we think it can become a much bigger product."
CONCACAF will look at future opportunities to collaborate with Conmebol, but putting CONCACAF's priorities first. "You have to mind your own, look in your backyard first," Montagliani said.