By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Pele has endorsed Jerome Champagne's bid to become the next president of FIFA, saying he supported the 55-year-old Frenchman's vision for the future of world soccer's governing body on Monday.
The Brazilian, widely regarded as the world's greatest-ever player, gave his backing in a videotaped message shown when Champagne launched his bid at a news conference in London.
Pele said: "I cannot stay away from a debate which is so important for the future of football and thus, I support Jerome Champagne and his vision."
Champagne has built his campaign on addressing the imbalances in the game on and off the pitch and making the governance of FIFA more democratic and transparent.
Pele, 73, said the pair first met in the 1990s when he was Brazil's Minister of Sport and Champagne was the First Secretary at the French Embassy in Brazil, and they developed "a sincere friendship."
Pele added: "Football today enjoys a lot of success but also faces many problems requiring a strong and democratic FIFA with a vision in favor of everyone, and a governance which is both universal and modern.
"FIFA must continue doing what has been done well in the past, taking its competitions and the World Cup to all countries and also continue its development programs, but has to adapt itself to the 21st century and to the world of today."
Champagne worked at FIFA from 1999 to 2010 and has since been working as an independent consultant, with FIFA's co-operation, in a number of the world's football trouble spots.
Current FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini are also expected to stand for the office but have not declared their intentions yet.
(Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Brian Homewood)