By Simon Evans
ZURICH (Reuters) - The powerful head of Asian soccer said on Friday the sport's world governing body, shaken by a graft scandal, needed a "firm hand" to steady it, but notably made no reference to European chief Michel Platini whom he had previously favored as the next president.
Two sources have told Reuters Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa might himself stand for the FIFA presidency if a Swiss inquiry into a 2 million Swiss franc ($2.05 million) payment to him by outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter hampered his candidacy.
Bahraini Sheikh Salman, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), while not explicitly ruling out a bid for the presidency of FIFA, said in a statement:
"I have noted recent media speculation that my name has been suggested by others but, while I would like to thank them for their trust and confidence in my leadership, the thought of being a candidate in 2016 had not crossed my mind."
FIFA will elect a successor in February to veteran Blatter, who was placed under investigation last Friday by Swiss authorities. The move followed the May indictment of 14 soccer officials and marketing executives in the United States for bribery, money laundering and wire fraud.
Platini, who like Blatter denies any wrongdoing, was the early frontrunner before the investigation was launched last week. Some European soccer associations backing Platini are also adopting a more cautious approach, awaiting the outcome of that inquiry.
"In this time of uncertainty surrounding soccer's world governing body FIFA, it is clear that what is needed, more urgently than ever, is a firm hand to run the world body competently and with a determination to conduct its affairs professionally and with maximum transparency," Sheikh Salman said in his statement.
STRONG ASIAN CANDIDATES
The lack of reference to Platini stands in contrast to Sheikh Salman's fulsome praise for the former French international in August when he said FIFA needed "experience, wisdom and ability to bring back stability to FIFA.
"Mr. Platini boasts such characteristics and has an ambitious vision to renew belief in the organization," he said at the time.
Sheikh Salman, a close ally of influential Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, said his current priority was the AFC.
Asia already has two hopeful candidates with Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein and South Korean Chung Mong-joon, the 63-year-old billionaire scion of South Korea's Hyundai industrial conglomerate, also bidding.
UEFA president Platini says the nine year gap between his work for FIFA, which concluded in 2002, and the payment made in 2011 was due to FIFA lacking the funds to pay him.
Platini would have to pass an Ethics Committee 'Integrity Check' after submitting his nomination by October 26.
(Reporting By Simon Evans; editing by Ralph Boulton)