Platini’s poor timing brings UEFA downfall

Paris (AFP) – Making the right pass at a crucial moment made Michel Platini one of the world’s greatest footballers, but poor timing cost him his place as one of the most powerful men in sport.

The 60-year-old Frenchman, who quit as UEFA president Monday after failing to overturn a ban from world football, regularly battled back from injury and other blows to star in some of football’s most dramatic moments as a player. Escaping FIFA’s corruption turmoil has been a trick too far.

The time between his work as an advisor to FIFA president Sepp Blatter between 1999 and 2002 and a two million Swiss francs ($2 million, 1.8 million euros) payment he received in 2011 was not great tactics.

FIFA banned him for eight years saying the reason for the payment stretched credibility. This was cut to six years on appeal. The Court of Arbitration cut it to four years on Monday, but said it also doubted the “legitimacy” of the payment.

Platini angrily said the decision was intended to stop him from standing as FIFA president in four years. But now his time in world football politics is over.

The grandson of Italian migrants, Platini was born and brought up in the small steel town of Joeuf in eastern France. His father Aldo was a local maths teacher and football coach. 

The young Michel quickly showed a gift with the ball — but French football nearly missed out on his talents. He missed one trial with local heavyweights Metz because of injury and for the second he failed a medical test because of the club’s fears about his heart.

Eventually, Nancy signed him and the rest is football history.

Platini won the French Cup with Nancy, a league title with St Etienne and was lured to Juventus in 1982. In Turin, the genius playmaker won two Serie A titles and a European Cup.

The passes were always inch-perfect and for a time, Platini was one of the greatest players in the world. He won the 1984 European Championship with France and the Ballon d’Or in 1983, 1984 and 1985. 

His retirement at the age of 32 came as a shock. But a year later, Platini had already started a four-year stint as France’s national coach. The team crashed out of the 1992 European Championship in the first round and he resigned.

Platini then turned his hand to football administration.

He was co-chairman of the 1998 World Cup organising committee in France and was an influential backer of Sepp Blatter’s bid to take over the FIFA presidency in 1998.

Platini became vice-president of the French Football Federation in 2001 and scored his first major political victory when he took charge of UEFA in 2007 — shoving out long-time leader Lennart Johansson in the first round of voting.

For years he seemed Blatter’s anointed successor. Chung Mong-Joon, the South Korean tycoon and former FIFA vice-president, said there was a “father and son” relationship between the two.

The distance between them grew as scandal engulfed FIFA under Blatter’s imperial rule.

But for three years from 1999 Platini was an advisor to world football’s leader. Their version is that they reached an oral agreement on the salary of one million Swiss francs a year, which was not all paid at the time.

FIFA knew nothing about the deal however, and Swiss prosecutors deemed a two million Swiss franc transfer in 2011 to be a “disloyal payment”.

Under Platini, UEFA’s wealth grew exponentially. The Champions League is one of the world’s top sporting brands. The European Championship in France next month will feature 24 countries for the first time.

Platini had been desperate to win his UEFA chair back so he could preside at the tournament. 

But the Frenchman faces other uncomfortable questions, including his vote for Qatar when the Gulf state secured the 2022 World Cup five years ago.

Platini said he wanted to show that his horizons were not limited to Europe. 

“I have no regrets at all. I think it was the right choice for FIFA and world football,” he told L’Equipe newspaper in 2014.

Platini has denied he was influenced by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy or the fact that his son Laurent works for a Qatar-owned sports clothing company.

He also courted controversy over his refusal to hand back a watch worth more than $25,000 that was gifted to him by the Brazilian Football Confederation at last year’s World Cup.

“I’m a well-educated person. I don’t return gifts,” said Platini after FIFA called for all watches given to executive members to be handed back over a breach of ethics rules. Again the timing was doubtful.

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