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Sepp Blatter Resigns: What, and Who, Is Next for FIFA?

Sepp Blatter to Resign as FIFA President Amid Controversy 0:24

Just last week, as he was rolling to re-election to a fifth term as president of world soccer's governing body, Sepp Blatter said: "Why would I step down? That would mean I recognize that I did wrong."

On Tuesday Blatter stepped down, leaving FIFA in a crisis of leadership and purpose at a critical moment in its history.

After U.S. authorities announced a sweeping indictment last week alleging corruption at the highest levels of FIFA House in Zurich, Attorney General Loretta Lynch pointedly refused to comment when asked about Blatter. She and other federal prosecutors said the investigation was still in its early stages.

A source familiar with the investigation confirmed to NBC News that the FBI is looking into possible wrongdoing specifically by Blatter. While he isn't named in the indictment, it makes it clear that the Justice Department holds the president of FIFA "responsible for the implementation of [its] decisions."

RELATED: How Sepp Blatter Runs Soccer 'Like a Chicago Politician'

Under that cloud, Blatter will remain in charge of FIFA for as long as 10 more months while it organizes a new presidential election, which it said could be held as late as March 2016.

In the meantime, FIFA faces a mountain of challenges with a lame-duck president whose own credibility is deeply doubted and a roster of replacement leaders who must learn quickly on the job.

How FIFA Works 1:32

Because of the delay, the job of rebuilding and rehabilitating FIFA will be enormously complicated. As many as a half-dozen serious contenders to succeed Blatter could emerge in the next months, and important decisions will have to be made with an eye toward what the next president might want to do or change.

Those decisions must satisfy a number of FIFA's stakeholders, who frequently don't see eye to eye.

The soccer world is divided very broadly into two camps: One comprises the traditional soccer powers of Europe and South America, most of whom have demanded Blatter's ouster for years. The other encompasses the smaller soccer nations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean, which flourished under Blatter and voted heavily to keep him as president last week.

The next president faces the conundrum of figuring out how to balance the demands of the smaller nations, which share equally in voting power and revenue distribution, with the yearning of most of the traditional European and South American powers — which have won all 20 World Cups — to take back some of the authority they lost under Blatter's presidency.

Sepp's Scandals: The FIFA President's History of Trouble 0:58

Then there are the corporate sponsors, which FIFA's financial reports show were responsible for almost 30 percent of the organization's $5.7 billion in revenue during the four-year cycle leading up to the 2014 World Cup.

Visa said last week that unless FIFA imposes "a culture with strong ethical practices," it will take its money and go home. Coca-Cola said the scandal "has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup," adding that it has "repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations."

Amid all that, the games must still go on.

A separate Swiss investigation is challenging the legitimacy of FIFA's selections of Russia and Qatar to host the next two World Cups. Preparations for both championships are steaming ahead — the preliminary draw for the 2018 World Cup in Russia is next month — but FIFA will also have to have contingency plans should one or both events have to be moved.

Meanwhile, the men's Under-20 World Cup is already under way in New Zealand, and the Women's World Cup opens Saturday in Canada. The World Club Cup begins in Japan in December. And planning for next year's Olympic soccer tournaments in Brazil are well into the advanced stages.

It's too soon for anyone to have decided whether to run, but as many as a dozen people are considered likely to say they're eager to take on those challenges.

NBC Sports: Who Will Be FIFA's First New President in Nearly Two Decades?

Among the leading contenders:

Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan

Image: Prince Ali bin al-Hussein
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein AFP - Getty Images

The only challenger to Blatter last week. Prince Ali, 39 — FIFA's youngest vice president — drew enough support to deny Blatter a victory on the first ballot, and he is widely considered a favorite to win the next time.

As head of the Jordanian Football Association, Prince Ali grew the popularity of soccer and expanded women's involvement. At FIFA, he has been one of the loudest voices calling for publication of former U.S. prosecutor Michael Garcia's 430-page internal report on allegations of bribery and corruption in the decisions to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. And perhaps most strikingly, he has made reducing the power of the president a key part of his platform.

"We don't want an executive president," the prince told The New York Times in March. "We want to get to a day when people don't even know who the president of FIFA is."

Michel Platini

Image: UEFA President Michel Platini
UEFA President Michel Platini EPA

A FIFA vice president and president of UEFA, the confederation of European soccer. Universally ranked as one of the greatest players ever, Platini, 59, became a power in soccer administration after he stepped down as coach of the French national team in 1992.

In recent years, Platini has become a prominent critic of Blatter's, but it wasn't always so. Before he took over UEFA, Platini was one of Blatter's senior aides, and afterward he endorsed Blatter as the best man to clean up the "small problems" at FIFA. In return, Blatter backed Platini as his successor in 2012 — part of what was reported at the time as a deal in which Blatter wouldn't run for re-election this year in favor of Platini. When Blatter backed out and announced he would run again, their relationship broke.

"It was more than a promise, actually, it was a true commitment," Platini told the French newspaper L'Equipe last month.

Platini faces several hurdles. He's never set forth a platform of specifics for what he would do if he runs and wins. As head of European soccer, he likely would have difficulty drawing wide support among African, Asian and Caribbean associations. And he would be certain to be questioned closely about his surprise decision to vote for Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup.

Michael van Praag

Image: Dutch Football Federation President Michael van Praag
Dutch Football Federation President Michael van Praag AFP - Getty Images

Head of the Royal Dutch Football Association and a member of FIFA's powerful executive committee. Van Praag, 67, launched a campaign for president this year but pulled out at the last minute to rally unified support behind Prince Ali against Blatter.

A referee in the Dutch league for 16 years and chairman of the powerhouse Dutch club Ajax for 14 years, van Praag is also a prominent business leader in the Netherlands and campaigned as a practical businessman who could restore trust and accountability at FIFA. He has promised to serve only one transitional term.

Under the banner Football for Everyone, he has called for reorganizing FIFA with a new "presidents board" representing each continent, publishing all executive committee proceedings, quadrupling FIFA payments to individual federations, expanding the World Cup to 40 nations, consolidating referee programs and creating a central referees academy.

Issa Hayatou

Image: African Football Confederation President Issa Hayatou
African Football Confederation President Issa Hayatou AP

President of the African Football Confederation for 27 years. Hayatou, 68, of Cameroon, ran against Blatter and lost in 2002, but since then, he has been among his closest allies, citing Blatter's vast expansion of FIFA's spending on player development and facilities across the African continent and the award of the first African World Cup, which was held in South Africa five years ago.

Hayatou would likely draw strong support from Africa's 55 members, who make up more than half the 105 votes that would be needed to win a majority on a second ballot. But his long support of Blatter would make getting to 105 difficult, as would allegations, strongly denied, that he took bribes to influence television rights to the World Cup during the 1990s. And he is among those named by Swiss authorities as persons of interest in their separate investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awards.

Jerome Champagne

Image: Jerome Champagne
Former FIFA official Jerome Champagne AP

A former FIFA deputy secretary-general and director of international relations. Champagne, 56, also declared for this year's election before withdrawing in February, claiming Blatter had threatened reprisals against member countries if they supported him.

Champagne, who left FIFA in 2010, outlined his objections to Blatter in 2012 in a white paper titled "Which FIFA for the 21st Century?" — decrying the influence of money in soccer and the divide between Europe and the rest of the world in soccer. "In face of this crisis of a rudderless globalization without governance, states lose ground to the markets and the stock exchanges," he wrote. "But take this sentence and replace the words 'states,' 'markets' and 'stock exchanges' by 'federations,' 'leagues' and 'clubs' respectively, [and] the similarity is even more striking."

Sunil Gulati

Image: U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati AFP - Getty Images

President of U.S. Soccer and a member of FIFA's executive committee. Gulati, 55, a senior lecturer in economics at Columbia University, has advocated reform in FIFA from the beginning, but he has chosen to work from the inside, helping to launch several internal investigations as a member of its reform committee.

Along with Prince Ali and Moya Dodd of Australia, Gulati was singled out for praise as executive committee members who not only turned down but actually reported as attempted bribery the gift of $25,000 watches from a FIFA sponsor last year — watches that Blatter, Platini and the rest of the executive committee accepted. Gulati, however, represents the U.S., which is leading the investigation of FIFA and is resented by smaller members of its own North and South American and Caribbean federation, 17 of which voted against him when he was elected to the executive committee in 2013.

Others

  • Senes Erzik, former president of the Turkish Football Federation, vice president of UEFA and a member of FIFA's executive committee member since 1996. As head of the federation of a Muslim country in the non-Muslim European confederation, Erzik, 72, is seen as something of a non-aligned figure, not a fan of Blatter but a proponent of some of his expansionist policies popular in Africa and the Middle East.
  • Luis Figo, the legendary Portuguese player who also campaigned for president this year before dropping out to rally support behind Prince Ali. Figo, 42, promised to return two-thirds of FIFA's $1.5 billion surplus to the 209 member nations, to invest half of FIFA's revenue in grassroots programs to grow the sport's popularity and to expand the World Cup to 40 or even 48 nations. Figo, who is independently wealthy, funded his own campaign to prove his independence. But he has no background in soccer administration, and at a presidential candidates forum in January, he had difficulty answering basic questions about FIFA's structure.