Tuesday 27 September 2016

Off the Ball: Platini the ghost at the feast after stunning fall from grace

Ger Gilroy

Published 15/06/2016 | 02:30

Instead of saying no and blowing up the game, Platini decided to play by the rules that ultimately brought down FIFA. Photo: PA Wire
Instead of saying no and blowing up the game, Platini decided to play by the rules that ultimately brought down FIFA. Photo: PA Wire

When Zinedine Zidane was kicking a ball about with his mates as a kid, it was Michel Platini he was pretending to be. France's greatest football hero up until 1998 was Platini, and for an older generation he'll always be the original.

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He'd been the inspiration behind their previous golden generation and had starred as they won the Euros on home soil in 1984.

He'd been there in' 82, all the way to the semi-final when Germany villainously knocked them out literally and figuratively, and he was still there in '86 when again Germany stole their spot in the final.

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Between '83 and '85 he won the Ballon D'Or each year and finished top scorer in Serie A, despite not being a striker. He was special, he was French and France adored him.

The second act after his football career looked to be headed towards similar glory and world domination. There had been setbacks along the way and things had taken a bit longer then perhaps he'd have hoped given how famous and brilliant his career had been.

Over time, though, he'd delivered what he was supposed to deliver. The World Cup of 1998 was seen by many as a crowning glory; officially Platini was credited as a "co-organiser".

For him, though, it was a mere staging-post en route to the top job in football, FIFA President.

But somehow Platini lost his way. He managed the French national team without building a coaching cv at club level and while he had a brilliant qualifying campaign for the 1992 Euros, the team crashed out in the group stages of the tournament.

They were undone by the under-prepared Danes, conceding a goal with 12 minutes left that knocked them out of the tournament and set up Danish football history.

So having failed at football management, Platini returned to football politics, where he'd been spending some time on smaller UEFA committees, getting experience.

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It was supposed to be the perfect CV for someone running football. He had the trust of players, managers and administrators, his policies weren't just in thrall to the super clubs and he was happy to speak out about debt, underage players being trafficked and more. He was no rebel but it was easy to see how he might be an improvement on the fat cats who came before him.

So what happened? How did this prototype of a football administrator become someone who can't attend his home Euros in an official capacity?

Before the first France game there was a Platini Watch on television to see if he'd show up and embarrass UEFA.

Perhaps tonight at the Albania game he'll show up and the cameras will pick him out and we'll see what France thinks of him now.

As Sepp Blatter clung to power, he appears to have done a deal with Platini that would eventually see him into the top job.

Instead of saying no and blowing up the game, Platini decided to play by the rules that ultimately brought down FIFA. That means back-room deals and conflicts of interest, and it has all led to a stunning fall from grace.

If only he'd played politics with the freedom he played ball, then these Euros could indeed have been his crowning glory.

Irish Independent

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