Wednesday 28 September 2016

Will there be extra time for Blatter and Platini - the 'father and son' of Fifa?

The ultimate boss of world football and the front runner to succeed him were close allies for many years, writes Edward Malnick

Edward Malnick

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini
Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini

When Swiss police swooped on a five-star hotel in Zurich in May to arrest some of Fifa's most senior figures, leading to corruption charges against 14 officials and executives, one man emerged notably unscathed.

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The FBI insisted that "undisclosed payments, kickbacks and bribes" had become "a way of doing business at Fifa". However, Sepp Blatter, the organisation's president since 1998, was absent from the US indictment that prompted the arrests.

He has never been implicated in wrongdoing, and the corruption, he has since added, was "with individuals, it is the people".

He described himself as "clean", and successfully continued with his attempt to win a fifth term of office.

But Kelly Currie, the acting US Attorney, had hinted that the indictment was "not the final chapter in our investigation". To many observers this suggested that the authorities were determined to cast their net even more widely - or higher still. Mr Blatter was not yet clear of the biggest scandal in the history of football. So yesterday, when Ms Currie's Swiss counterparts disclosed that they had launched separate criminal proceedings against the 79-year-old, the announcement was not greeted with as much surprise as otherwise might have been the case.

The announcement, though, has dragged into the scandal another figure, Michel Platini, who until now had appeared far removed from the allegations and hints dropped by the authorities investigating Fifa.

According to a statement by the Swiss attorney-general's office, Mr Blatter is suspected of criminal mismanagement or misappropriation, and of making a "disloyal payment" of SFr2m (€1.8m in today's exchange rates) to Mr Platini, the president of the Union of European Football Associations (Uefa). Mr Blatter's lawyer said that the Fifa chief was co-operating with Swiss authorities and that a review of the evidence would show "no mismanagement occurred".

Mr Platini (60), had widely been considered a front runner to succeed Mr Blatter, having led calls for him to stand down after the FBI and Swiss investigations were made public. In July, his declaration that he would stand in the Fifa presidential election next February was greeted with joy by many - including Britain's Football Association - seeking dramatic reform of football's international governing body.

Mr Platini's alleged involvement in the scandal brings into the spotlight a long and largely close relationship with the man accused of paying him a fee for work said to have been carried out by Mr Platini between 1999 and 2002. A gifted footballer in the Seventies and Eighties, Mr Platini later turned to coaching, before becoming co-president of the organising committee of the 1998 World Cup in France. Mr Blatter recruited him as a leading backer for his bid as Fifa president. Mr Blatter reportedly courted the Frenchman around the time of the World Cup, leading Antonio Matarrese, the then Fifa vice-president, to warn that Mr Platini was being put "into a very tight spot".

"He would like the scenario of him as president and Platini as his chief executive," said Mr Matarrese, "and he has put Platini, the man running the World Cup, into a very tight spot".

Mr Platini, who worked as vice-president of the French Football Federation in 2001 and then took charge of Uefa in 2007, supported subsequent bids by Mr Blatter but drew the line at his plans to stand for a fifth term.

In May, he firmly turned against Mr Blatter, warning that the Swiss Fifa chief was going back on a pledge to step down at the end of his fourth term.

"He is simply scared of the future because he has given his life to the institution to the point where he now identifies himself fully with Fifa," Mr Platini said.

"I understand the fear of that emptiness he must have - it's natural - but if he really loves Fifa, he should have put its interests ahead of his own." Mr Platini spoke out ostensibly as a figure removed from the scandal that had engulfed Fifa - and not for the first time.

Asked in 2011 about problems at world football's governing body, he said: "Scandals? I only know what I see in the newspapers and you work for the newspapers. You know more than me."

However, after later announcing his own bid for president in the 2016 election, Chung Mong-Joon of South Korea, a rival, said the past closeness of the pair tainted Mr Platini by association.

Mr Chung said Mr Blatter and Mr Platini once had a "father and son" relationship, suggesting the Frenchman's election would lead to anything but a break with the past. Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who enjoyed Mr Platini and Uefa's support when he stood against Mr Blatter in May, also turned on Mr Platini, describing him as "not good for football".

Controversy has also surrounded his decision to support Qatar's attempt to host the World Cup in 2022.

Mr Platini was quick to admit he voted for Qatar, apparently in an attempt to show that his horizons were not limited to Europe. But it led to suspicions that he may have been corrupted.

"I'm transparent - I am the only one who revealed who I voted for and did so by my own initiative," he said in 2014. "I have no regrets at all," he added.

He also courted controversy for refusing to hand back a watch worth more than €21,000 given to him by the Brazilian Football Confederation at last year's World Cup. Fifa said it was a breach of its code of ethics. But he said: "I'm a well-educated person. I don't return gifts."

©Telegraph

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