INTERNATIONAL Football Federation president Gianni Infantino and the country’s most popular sports icon had a short chat late Sunday night. Their topic? Why, football of course.
Upon the invitation of Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta Jr., Sen. Manny Pacquiao was among those who warmly greeted Infantino at the airport.
Also welcoming Infantino and his entourage were PFF general secretary Edwin Gastanes and former Philippine Olympic Committee chairman Monico Puentevela, an avid football fan and a former member of the FIFA Media Committee.
The Swiss-born FIFA honcho, who heads the biggest international sports federation with 211 member countries, came with FIFA deputy general secretary Mattias Grafstrom, FIFA Communications chief Onofre Costa and FIFA Foundation chief executive officer Youri Djorkaeff, a member of the French squad in the 1998 World Cup.
During their chat at the fighting lawmaker’s plush residence in Forbes Park, Infantino was elated when Pacquiao expressed interest in playing football.
“If it is going to be for a good cause, then why not,” Pacquiao told the FIFA boss, referring to the prospects of playing with other sports legends in a FIFA-organized goodwill match.
Pacquiao was at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium when the LA Galaxy, bannered by British star David Beckham, whipped the Philippines Azkals 6-1 in a friendly nine years ago.
The Pinoy icon went down from his VIP seat to accept Beckham’s jersey after the sell-out match.
“This (football) is one sport where the Filipino can excel and be also good at,” noted Pacquiao, who told Infantino he wanted to watch a World Cup match, to which Infantino readily agreed.
Infantino and Djorkaeff presented the boxing champ with an official jersey with Pacquiao’s name and the No. 9 inscribed on it. In return, Pacquiao gave the FIFA officials autographed souvenir shirts.
“Infantino’s visit is a huge encouragement for local football because it shows his concern for developing countries like us as well as our contribution to the sport under the leadership of PFF president Araneta,” Gastanes said.
A former national team mainstay and presently a successful businessman, Araneta currently sits on the Executive Board of both FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation.
Infantino’s unannounced visit may also be a tacit endorsement of Araneta, who is seeking a third straight term as PFF president after being elected for the first time in 2011. The PFF polls are scheduled next month.