Rise and fall of Michel Platini - the self-proclaimed 'football man' who forgot the meaning of integrity
A state of denial is a virulent affliction for the cult of the leader at Fifa and Uefa - and Michel Platini has a bad case of it, writes Paul Hayward
Michel Platini might have been someone for great footballers to try to emulate when their playing days were over. Instead he is the cautionary tale. To be a ‘football man’ means nothing without integrity.
Uefa’s public support for Platini displays a breathtaking willingness to let the Fifa contagion spread from Sepp Blater’s failed state to Europe’s governing body, where cutting Monsieur President adrift would display a much clearer grasp of the crisis in world football.
The cult of the leader at Swiss HQs is such that Uefa sound almost as badly wounded as Platini himself, who called his eight-year ban a "pure masquerade" and now tries to position himself as a victim of Fifa vengeance. This will confuse those who thought Platini had Blatter’s corrupt parliament at his feet and was on a smooth trajectory to become the successor.
A certain latent glamour attaches itself to Platini, one of the great European playmakers, whose languid artistry has taken up permanent residence in the memories of older spectators. Nothing wrong with that. But talent was never a free pass to wield power self-servingly. There is no added pathos in Platini’s sentence for taking £1.35 million of Fifa money in 2011 – an uncontracted payment signed off by Blatter for advisory work Platini had stopped doing nine years earlier.
In fact, Platini’s offence feels worse because he framed himself as the football man, the soul of the game, who sought high office only to serve the sport he loved. Blatter, on the other hand, was a career bureaucrat who had shinned up Fifa’s greasy pole. Football merely served the megalomania of ‘Mr President’, as all at Fifa insisted on calling him.
But Platini: now, there was a man you could marvel at on YouTube, at once a musketeer from the 1970s and 80s and a statesman of the modern game who was behind ‘Financial Fair Play’ (how risible that high-blown concept sounds now.)
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A state of denial is a virulent affliction for football’s lake-dwellers - and Platini has a bad case of it. He cannot see how accepting $2 million from Blatter shortly before he (Platini) agreed not to challenge Blatter for the Fifa presidency might offend the sensibilities of those who think transparency and accountability are vital attributes of governing bodies.
"The decision is no surprise to me: the procedure initiated against me by Fifa's ethics committee is a pure masquerade," the Uefa president said in a statement. "It has been rigged to tarnish my name by bodies I know well and who for me are bereft of all credibility or legitimacy."
Knowing their leader is appealing to the Court of Arbitration in Sport, the organisers of the Champions League and European Championship were bound to settle for an each-way bet on the ultimate outcome. But there is too much support and too little condemnation in their statement: "Naturally, Uefa is extremely disappointed with this decision, which nevertheless is subject to appeal. Once again, Uefa supports Michel Platini's right to a due process and the opportunity to clear his name."
The French Football Federation’s reaction is simply craven. Noel le Graet, their president, said: "Michel Platini's suspension is shocking and saddens me. It seems unbelievable. But it does not surprise me as the ethics commission president had already announced that Michel would be suspended for several years. Michel's guilt was decided in advance."
Platini’s “guilt,” it could be strongly argued, stems not from the vindictive urges of Fifa’s newly emboldened ethics committee but his willingness to ask, nine years after the event, for a huge payment directly from Blatter that was not documented in Fifa’s accounts. Anyone in either organisation (or at the French FA) who considers this a trifling matter is deaf to the anger of football spectators. Such payments are part of a wider culture of power-deluded panjandrums using the world’s favourite game as a private bank.
Nothing Platini has said since this cosy little arrangement came to light suggests he understands how people will see his conduct, from his support for Qatar to his unquestioning obedience to Blatter during decades of institutionalised corruption, until Platini developed his own ambitions to lead the bigger organisation and friction grew between the two. According to Blatter, the “disloyal” payment to Platini came to light only when the existence of the Swiss account where he held it was revealed to the authorities in line with money laundering compliance checks.
In the modern era, Platini’s administrative career is now bookended by the successful 1998 World Cup in France and a 2016 European Championship he will probably watch as a disqualified person. His wonderful playing career can no longer be seen as one stop on a dazzling ascent. The way from there was down, to the mire of Fifa politics, where he seemed to think the normal rules of governance applied only to lesser beings.