As the clock wound down at the 1992 European Championships, it appeared Platini’s revolutionary touch had faded away. The national hero had returned to the French national team as their manager in 1988. Nonetheless, he could not replicate the magic of 1984. Les Bleus failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, and they were on the brink of elimination in 1992. Eventual winners Denmark secured their fate; France and Platini had fallen.
Platini resigned and curtailed his managerial experiment. He embarked on a greater journey that gave him the freedom his football prowess gifted him. The former graceful football artist set course to become a dominating figure within the nefarious chess match of football politics. Platini had echoed once “I was never a prisoner to my footballing status”. He was right in most instances, but not even a king could escape from being chained to the corrupt plague that swept through the industry.
A crucial alliance
The Frenchman’s first major administrative position began in November 1992 when he was appointed the joint head of the 1998 World Cup committee with Fernand Satre. The World Cup was the only major trophy missing from his astonishing resume, so he hoped he could be a leading figure in organising his country’s first World Cup win. The event transformed into a French coronation as Les Blues finally became world champions. Platini’s fantasy materialised into reality through the generation that was inspired by his greatness.
However, Platini openly stained himself and the event 20-years-later. He admitted that the draw was fixed so France could meet the holders, Brazil, in the final. “There was a little trickery” Platini admitted to radio station France Bleu Sport in 2018. “We did not spend six years organising the World Cup to not do some little shenanigans. Do you think other World Cup hosts did not?”
Even before the Frenchman had officially devoted himself to the cult of FIFA, he was engaging in unethical practices. FIFA had become a mobster-like world revolutionised under FIFA president João Havelange. But the balance of power was changing. Havelange advertised his desire to retire in 1998 and a new face of football would be established for the first time since 1974.
Sepp Blatter, Havelange’s secretary-general and protégé hoped to duplicate his mentor’s tactics by securing the support of a football idol. His target was Michel Platini. Blatter groomed the icon, just like Havelange had done with Pelé.
The pair were familiar with each other because of Platini’s work on the World Cup committee. They allegedly had shared the same hotel in Singapore in January 1998 and Blatter had asked the Frenchman if he wanted to be FIFA president. Platini could picture the painting, though he maintains he rejected interest in the top job. He was ultimately not ready to seize the role as a rookie in the minefield of football politics. Instead, he joined Blatter’s campaign, wooing FA’s away from the Swiss’ opponents. Blatter promised Platini a role as his international adviser if he won in exchange. The crucial alliance was formed.
Blatter assumed control in typical FIFA underworld fashion. The new secretary-general Michel Zen-Ruffinen claimed votes had been bought in Blatter’s favour, and alleged that Blatter had gifted TV deals below their commercial value. But the Swiss survived, served 17-years as FIFA president, and envisioned Platini as his successor. The alliance had secured the Frenchman’s position as the heir in waiting.
The new FIFA president paid his debt once he secured his position. He appointed Platini as his international advisor and named him as Deputy Chairman of the Goal programme alongside Mohammad bin Hammam (the Qatari who was later famously riddled with allegations of corruption).
Platini worked from Paris in his new positions. He advised on the football calendar, travelled with his new mentor, and worked on the Goal project. The programme aimed to distribute developing projects to poorer associations, like infrastructure, administration, education, and youth football.
Blatter credited his protégé in its formation when the president was accused of using it as a mechanism to buy support in 2002. “I worked out the Goal project with Michel Platini for my 1998 election campaign” Blatter responded. “The executive committee fought it at first, then everyone applauded it, and now it is used even by Issa Hayatou [Blatter’s rival for president] for his own election programme.”
What Blatter did not foresee was the fatal consequence that was set to be ignited when Platini came on board. The FIFA contract for the roles Platini acquired stated he was paid 300,000 CHF during his four-year tenure. The two men originally agreed on ‘one million’ CHF per year, but Blatter could not deliver. Zen-Ruffinen was paid 300,000 CHF per year so Blatter could not be seen to favour his protégé. They settled on 300,000 CHF a year and ‘orally agreed’ that Platini should be paid the remaining money in the future. The alleged agreement was a ticking timebomb.
Platini left his FIFA roles in 2002 to join the UEFA executive committee with Blatter’s blessing. UEFA was a political rival to FIFA and crucially Blatter. The Europe-based football union had fought tireless battles to stop him from seizing the presidency in 1998 and attempted to unseat him in 2002.
The cunning FIFA president could have predicted an opportunity to exploit his ally’s seat. Platini shared the table of some of Blatter’s fiercest rivals, including UEFA president Lennart Johansson. The Swede ran against Blatter in 1998 and voted for Hayatou in 2002. The 2007 UEFA election presented itself as the perfect moment to elevate his protégé further up the football ladder. It was an opportunity the alliance was not going to miss.
On 25th July 2006, UEFA announced that Michel Platini had officially submitted his candidacy to become UEFA president. Johansson’s new opponent had risen through the ranks earlier that year. Platini became chairman of the FIFA Technical and Development Committee and the French Football Federation vice president.
Blatter remained on Johansson’s side for the first few months of the election campaign, but the strategist Swiss soon manoeuvred. He declared his support for his ally in November 2006 and then publicly endorsed him the day before the vote.
Lars-Christer Olsson, the secretary-general at UEFA and a prominent supporter of Johansson, protested the announcement. He threatened to resign if Platini won as he believed Platini was ‘groomed’ in politics by Blatter.
Johansson also refuted Blatter’s involvement in Platini’s accession to power. During his final UEFA Congress address, he stated, “I cannot appreciate it when the FIFA president interferes in an election process here in UEFA. It’s not the FIFA president, it is you the Congress taking the decision.”
Olsson went through with his threat when Platini won by 27 votes to 23. Blatter had defeated his long-term rival and his allies while promoting his heir in the process. The political poker master had triumphed again.
Exporting a revolution
Platini immediately seized the chance to project his ideology to Europe like a priest orating their gospel. “We must always see to it that the strong help the weaker ones” he expressed. “Let’s defend the national associations against the interests which are threatening them. It is a game before a product, a sport before a market, a show before a business.”
The UEFA president envied football marketisation, top club dominance, the “never-ending goldrush” of foreign investment, and financial instability. He also desired greater promotion of homegrown players and the banning of international under-18s transfers in European football. His repellent belief that “people are coming to take control of this [football] popularity to make money” drove him to promote change. Platini revolutionised French football by his spiritualistic style, now he wanted to do the same to Europe, but through his ideological worldview.
Michel Platini’s success varied, despite aiming high from the beginning. He failed to introduce a new Champions League format in 2009 (a proposal he spoke about in his first speech), while his instance on outlawing underage international transfers eventually became FIFA law. He labelled it as “child labour” and “child trafficking” to the European Union in February 2009.
Meanwhile, he continuously picked fights with English clubs. He singled out the country’s ‘ultralibérale’ (free market) commercial approach and the success debt-ridden clubs could accumulate.
“Look at Chelsea and Manchester United’s debt” Platini pointed out in June 2008. “FIFA and UEFA have to do something to combat that because today the ones who cheat are going on to win. Is Champions League success built around who has the most money? I think so. It is run on credit now and it annoys me. We have to find ways to help other clubs sort out their problems. Defeat must no longer mean financial disaster. We have to find the means, together with the European Club Association, to help clubs sort out their financial problems.”
He repeated his concerns in 2009 in an interview with The Telegraph. Platini detailed why new regulations were needed to be ready to be implemented in three-years.
“Every owner has asked me for a better philosophy, for better transparency” he stated. “In Germany, debts are not accepted. In England they are. Some of the chief executives are not OK with the chance of new regulations [on debt] because they don’t want to change their business. The owners are OK with it. Abramovich hardly bought one player this year.
“By putting in new rules we will protect the business of Abramovich, Massimo Moratti [at Inter Milan] or Glazer. I am sure they want to sell but who will buy clubs with so many debts? Who would be that stupid? If you regulate the system, many people will be interested in buying. I am not a big economist, but I am logical.”
His clear loathing for the financial climate in Europe was the foundation for the introduction of Financial Fair Play. In 2011, the year of his re-election, his new financial regulations were birthed. FFP has been at the heart of a great number of discourses ever since. It is argued Platini’s vision of a financially balanced competitive Europe has tipped it in the other direction by solidifying the positions of the elite.
Platini had also failed to introduce a radical homegrown reform. The ‘6+5’ proposal, which required teams to field six players eligible for the national team of that league and five foreign players, was rejected by the EU and European Parliament on 9th May 2008. The two institutions believed it violated the Bosman Ruling and article 48 of the EC Treaty. The scheme was completely scrapped in July 2010.
The UEFA President did not give up on implementing his traditional view. After his re-election in 2015, he wanted to limit the number of best players on one team for competitive reasons. His answer was to introduce regulations regarding the number of homegrown players needed in a squad. Though suddenly, Platini’s head was turned, and the football world came crashing down.
Destiny and exile
On 27th May 2015, seven FIFA officials were arrested just before the 65th FIFA Congress, where Sepp Blatter was expected to be re-elected for a fifth four-year term. Blatter again succeeded, though his grip on power was quickly loosening. Some of his senior colleagues, such as Jérôme Valcke and Jack Warner, were indicted by the United States Department of Justice. Blatter’s FIFA underworld was collapsing, and it was only a matter of time until the earthquake came for the supremo and his ally.
A few days later, Blatter announced his resignation as FIFA president. Blatter had not been indicted or arrested but the pressure was too much. Michel Platini captured the moment. The UEFA president declared his candidacy for the top job on 29th July. The heir was ready to be crowned.
He believed his administrative rise had come to fruition because of the spiritual works of providence. “It was destiny, the fatality that I went through this”, Platini told David Conn, in The Fall of the House of Fifa. The sporting icon had been guided by the football gods to this moment. He had waited 17 years to gain the necessary experience and patiently paused his ultimate ambition until his ally had bowed out of the arena. Destiny was set to be fulfilled.
Though less a month later, on 25th September, Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber announced he was investigating an alleged 2 million CHF payment from FIFA to Platini, with Blatter’s approval, a month before the 2011 FIFA presidential election. The pair claimed it was related to the ‘oral agreement’ when the FIFA president employed his ally after his first election win. Platini had thought he was paid 500,000 CHF per year for his four-year service, not 300,000 CHF. Evidently, this was the alliance’s reasoning for why a 2 million CHF payment was made through FIFA’s financial books and not 2.8 million CHF.
Platini set out to clear his name. In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, the UEFA president told them he was “not a man obsessed with money”; he “did not ask for the money” because he “did not miss it”; and he had ‘enough’ money anyway. This supported his claim that he did not seek the payment after leaving FIFA due to the financial difficulties they went through when ISL collapsed in 2002.
Jean-Philippe Leclaire, the author of the Platini biography Platoche: Gloire et les d’un héros français (the glory and woes of a French hero), contradicted Platini’s relaxed view on money. He told David Conn that Platini viewed money as a method to measure his ‘value’ and ‘talent’. Former FIFA executive Jérôme Champagne also told the journalist he falsified his persona surrounding money. These later accounts visibly damage Platini’s public plea.
Nevertheless, he first asked Markus Kattner, FIFA’s chief financial officer, for the money on 26th February 2010. The UEFA president was happy in his current role and so it made little sense for his payment to be deemed as a bribe to stop him from running in the up and coming presidential election. When Platini did not receive the payment, he asked for it again in June 2010 and then finally in January 2011. Kattner told him to invoice FIFA and he did so on 17th January, noting that FIFA should pay his pension and other benefits.
The Frenchman’s reputation was also hurt by the convenient circumstances that followed when he voted in favour of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Corruption allegations have swirled around those who voted for the hosts ever since the announcement first shocked the world in 2010. These accusations turned directly towards Platini when it was revealed that, two weeks before the vote, he had a meeting with French President Nikolas Sarkozy and the Emir of Qatar at the Elysée Palace. It has been alleged that Sarkozy directly asked him to vote for Qatar. Platini has always denied the accusation.
Then, on 8th October 2015, a bombshell landed. The adjudicatory arm of the ethics committee suspended both Blatter and Platini for 90 days as an investigation was being processed into the payment by the investigatory arm. The grounds of an ‘oral agreement’ were conclusively dismissed. The ethics committee saw evidence of a concrete contract of 300,000 CHF and ‘no legal basis’ for the 2 million CHF payment. Platini was banned from all football activities for eight years and he was fined 80,000 CHF.
The alliance was cleared of bribery and corruption, but were found guilty on the following charges: ‘offering and accepting gifts and other benefits’; ‘having a conflict of interest’; breaching their duty of loyalty, and breaches of the general rules of conduct.
His ban and fine were reduced to four-years and 60,000 CHF after an appeal to the FIFA appeals committee, and then the Court of Arbitration in May 2016. His breaches of the latter two charges were reversed.
The Frenchman backtracked from his self-called ‘fatality’ during an interview with the French newspaper L’Équipe in February 2016. “My destiny wasn’t to be president of FIFA but to be in the French team” he insisted. “I’m not a politician – I’m a football man.”
It was a sign that Platini had resigned from the FIFA presidency before the final verdict, even though he had never acquired the title. His dream was over.
In the close-to four-years on from CAS’s final verdict, Michel Platini’s ghost still haunts football’s shadows. He made limited public appearances at his home European Championships in 2016 and has fought in exile to clear his name. His latest attempt to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights regarding his ban was rejected in March 2020.
Michel Platini has become the forgotten icon in many ways. A castaway of a broken era that continues to stain the industry. So, as the exiled hero stalks football’s outskirt searching for a way to repeal his damaged legacy, it is easy to wonder the regret he has. His immortal powers had driven him to greatness and revolution, but not to his decisive destiny. Michel Platini’s final chapter in football will always remain clouded and unfulfilled.