From leading light to gunning for a fight - Platini feels the heat on eve of Euro 2012

Updated: Jun 07, 2012, 13:29 PM IST

Warsaw: Michel Platini the player was the most balletic of France’s famed four musketeers; graceful, light on his feet and capable of moments of magic seemingly at will.

Alongside Alain Giresse, Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana, he provided some of the European Championship`s most memorable moments as France stole the show on home soil in 1984.

Fast forward 28 years, however, and Platini the administrator cuts a more boorish figure.

With the curtains twitching ahead of the grand opening of Euro 2012 in Warsaw on Friday, the head of European football was in combative mood before meeting the world`s press.

He walked into the room at Warsaw’s marvellous National Stadium on the banks of the Vistula river, with the air of a man gunning for a fight, his hands poised above the metaphorical holster as he faced his army of inquisitors.

Combative to the point of defiance as a succession of questions about football`s current ailments - racism, match-fixing, player fatigue - were batted away with the grumpiness of Ebenezer Scrooge pondering tomorrow’s turkey on Christmas Eve.

He even pre-empted the feeding frenzy by saying that hopefully the conversation may actually involve some football.

What of the re-emergence of racism? "It is a problem of society, not football’s alone."

Is the sport infected by match-fixing? "We cannot stop people betting on things."

Were Poland and Ukraine the right choice as hosts for Euro 2012? "You (to a German questioner) voted for it."

To be fair, none of the issues which dominated Wednesday’s set-piece press conference at the National Stadium in Warsaw were in the great Frenchman`s control, although you got the feeling it would have been someone else’s fault if the tie he was wearing drew critical review. He was in that kind of mood.

He rightly praised the tireless efforts of the Polish and Ukraine hosts, but it was hard to shake the feeling Platini would rather be making his opening remarks in Paris, Milan or London.

Still, the solution to his rancour was simple - ask him about matters on the pitch.

Ask about football, and the charming Gallic smile appears, the animated hand movements are unleashed and Platini the `bon viveur` emerges.

"Go out and entertain us," he urged Europe`s best footballers, citing Germany and Spain as the two favourites in his mind to get their hands on the Henri Delaunay trophy on July 1.

"There will be a lot of surprises. Who would have bet (!) on Denmark winning in 1992, or Greece in 2004? As always, football is irrational – and that makes its beauty.

"I don’t have a crystal ball. (No-one said you did...)

"All I know is that eight teams will go on to the quarter-finals, then four, and then two, and then I will give the trophy to the winners," he added bluntly.

He and Kenny Dalglish are living proof that joie de vivre on the pitch doesn’t necessarily continue off it.

Let’s hope the players put the smile back on Mr Platini`s face for all our sakes; not least because it will mean the good people of Poland and Ukraine can lavish in the successful tournament they so richly deserve.