Michel Platini - romantic or pragmatist?

One of the most exquisitely gifted soccer players of his generation, FIFA presidential candidate Michel Platini likes to portray himself as an old-fashioned romantic with a mission to maintain the game’s purity.

Reuters| Last Updated: Jul 29, 2015, 18:59 PM IST
Michel Platini - romantic or pragmatist?

Berne: One of the most exquisitely gifted soccer players of his generation, FIFA presidential candidate Michel Platini likes to portray himself as an old-fashioned romantic with a mission to maintain the game’s purity.

"There are times in life when you have to take your destiny into your own hands," he said on Wednesday, announcing his bid to replace Sepp Blatter at the helm of the beleaguered world soccer body.

"I am at one of those decisive moments, at a juncture in my life and in events that are shaping the future of FIFA."

Some may wonder whether the moody Frenchman is the right man to clean up an organisation mired in a graft scandal reaching its top echelons.

Once a protege of Blatter, the 60-year-old Platini has turned into one of the biggest critics of the Swiss and been outspoken in his criticism of the corruption allegations.

"I am the first one to be disgusted by this. I have stomach trouble when I think about the FIFA problem," he said in May.

With eight years experience as UEFA president, he may have some strong ideas about how to reform the organisation when Blatter steps down in February.

If he has said little about what should be done to weed out corruption in FIFA, his record gives clues about how he would handle the future of a game that embraces all continents and is a huge global business.

One of Platini`s first moves at UEFA was to introduce a two-tier qualifying system for the flagship Champions League,making the lucrative group stage more accessible to clubs from eastern Europe and lower-ranked European countries.

He resisted pressure to introduce technology to help with refereeing decisions, instead preferring extra officials on each goal line.

Other UEFA policies have shown a less romantic, less `purist`, more businesslike side to Platini.

Some critics have accused him of turning UEFA into a slick, financially successful and yet ultimately charmless organization, where elite clubs have thrived and others have to sell their best players to stay afloat.

FAIR PLAY

Under Platini, UEFA has steered money and power to the clubs and leagues that are already the most established, particularly through the market pool system where club revenue depends on the size of their country`s television market.

This has led to the same few teams dominating the Champions League, shutting out smaller outfits such as French provincial side St Etienne, who won the last of their league titles back in 1981 when Platini was in their team.

Another controversial policy was the introduction of UEFA`s complicated Financial Fair Play rules, a system yet to be proven to really achieve its aims.

Devised to stop rich owners buying success by splurging on top players, it also forces smaller clubs to sell stars to bigger rivals to balance their books.

Blatter, who denies all suggestions of corruption and is not among those indicted, gained great popularity beyond Europe and especially in Africa for his promotion of soccer there.

Should Platini become FIFA president, he would have to balance the influence and power of Europe and non-European soccer powers. At least for his early years, corruption investigations would hang over all his efforts.

Several executive committee members have been banned for improper conduct by FIFA`s own ethics committee while U.S. authorities have indicted 14 people, some of them former FIFA officials, on counts of money laundering and bribery.

Swiss authorities are investigating the decisions to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The Swiss attorney general`s office says it already has 81 reports of suspicious transactions related to the decisions.

Investigations could take years, leaving whoever succeeds Blatter to deal with the fallout.

Platini, part of the FIFA executive committee since 2002, himself voted for Qatar, despite FIFA`s own technical report flagging up concerns about the searing heat in the Gulf state.

However, Pedro Pinto, UEFA`s spokesman, said Platini stood by his decision.

"He`s a man of conviction, he`s a man who has always been transparent and one of the few, if not the only one, to admit who he voted for," he said.

"He has nothing to hide and is someone who I think is respected around the world of football."