Menu

More Sports

Forget Blatter, bin Hammam: Platini for president!

If he could rewind the years, Michel Platini would like to be back on the pitch, carving up teams again with his elegant passes, free kicks and goals or, failing that, taking another crack at coaching France's national team, Les Bleus.

But, to his credit, this football romantic is a realist, too. At age 55, "it's hard to be a player or a coach again. So all that is left for me is to be the president of something. And something in football is UEFA," he said this week of the European football governing body that he heads.

Then, after the slightest pause, he added: "For the moment."

What a tease.

Platini knows that one of the big questions in football politics right now — the question he's dancing around and not yet providing a straight answer for — is whether he might soon want to make the next logical step and seek the presidency of FIFA that Sepp Blatter has monopolized for so long. Too long.

That would be good. Football could do far worse than giving its top job to the French former player who is proving to be such an adept and dynamic administrator of the sport in Europe.

Re-elected unopposed as head of UEFA this week, Platini isn't running in FIFA's presidential election coming on June 1. It could be a different story in 2015.

"He is asking himself the question," says Fernand Duchaussoy, head of the French Football Federation. One thing that gives Platini pause, Duchaussoy added, is that leading FIFA involves "a lot of traveling, a lot of personal investment."

Without Platini, the choice in the FIFA poll this time is uninspiring and poor: Blatter, yet again, or Asia's chief football administrator, Mohamed bin Hammam.

In other words, a 75-year-old who can't accept that FIFA needs new leadership against his 61-year-old former ally who helped Blatter stay in power in the last contested FIFA ballot in 2002 but who now wants to elbow him out. If that seems somewhat fratricidal, like a scenario from backstabbing Roman days, that's because it is.

Platini is wise to stay out of it. Now is not the best of times to be seen to have ambitions at FIFA, not after all the allegations of corruption and anger generated by the process that gave the World Cups of 2018 to Russia and 2022 to Qatar. For a gauge of how low FIFA's stock has fallen under Blatter's command, talk to Jim Boyce. The Northern Ireland football official says he's faced ribbing for accepting a new appointment as a FIFA vice president.

"People have made jokes to me about it," he says. "They have sort of made, I wouldn't say sarcastic comments, but ..."

Grit your teeth, because the next few weeks of Blatter vs. bin Hammam electioneering promise to be wholly unflattering for FIFA. Expect plenty more of the backroom politicking and deal-brokering that have helped give the organization such a bad name as a cozy club short on transparency and real accountability. Men in sharp suits who hug and glad-hand each other for the cameras but behind closed doors want to know what's in it for No. 1, themselves.

That's one reason why bin Hammam is offering money and patronage for FIFA member associations if he is elected. You can ignore his talk that FIFA needs "new faces, new blood, new air," because bin Hammam embodies none of those. He has been a member of FIFA's decision-making executive committee since 1996, which undercuts his claim to be a candidate of change. He has led football in Asia since 2002 but made less of a splash in that time than Platini has in his four years in charge in Europe.

Some of Platini's views and ideas are contestable. He is, for instance, overly stubborn with his allergy to the use of modern technological aids that could help overworked referees make fewer mistakes.

Nor will European football be magically made fairer by his so-called "financial fair play" rules which aim to lean on clubs that recklessly overspend. While Platini is right to be alarmed by the soaring costs of player wages and transfers, the Manchester Uniteds of football will always be richer and thus stronger than the likes of Lille. The rules do identify Platini as typically French: a bit suspicious of free markets and not averse to meddling in them to stop perceived abuses.

But at least Platini gets things done. On his way back from a trip to Sudan in February, for example, he stopped off in Serbia and Croatia to browbeat those countries' leaders about fan violence, warning that he would boot their national and club teams out of European competitions if hooligans aren't brought under control.

Platini's introduction of extra assistants to help referees in European club matches, his human alternative to using technology, also had the knock-on effect of highlighting the procrastination over at FIFA. It has gone back and forth on the issue of how to better officiate matches, including the possible use of goal-line technology, without yet reaching a definitive conclusion.

Platini's straight-talking candor is refreshing, too. He's still very much a football man, looking this week at UEFA's congress in Paris as though he just stepped out of the dressing room, with collar unbuttoned and hair so disheveled that he tried to slick it down with both hands before speaking to TV cameras.

"FIFA will evolve in the years to come. There will be generational changes, changes in people," he said.

But when asked if he plans to lead those changes from 2015, Platini was as evasive as he used to be against opposition defenders.

"Shall we see each other in three years? And then I'll tell you," he said.

But, really, he probably won't mind if you start wearing a lapel badge that reads: "Platini, president!"

___

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org