In France’s darkest hours during the Second World War, the French looked around desperately for a figure who could stand for them and lead their fight against the invading Nazi Germany. In Charles De Gaulle they found that leader who formed the Free French Forces that would fight back against their occupiers. De Gaulee was pragmatic figure forthright with his opinions and an inspired leader whose efforts during that time went along way towards the allies eventually winning the war. Now 70 years later, another Frenchman is stepping up to the plate as the voice of the people, not to stop a war but to restore pride and honour to football’s governing body FIFA. This week, UEFA president Michel Platini will step into the FIFA presidential race much to the delight of many in the game. Like De Gaulle, Platini does not mince his words and has been vocal about his distaste for the current regime and how it has been operated.
As a legend in the game as a player, Platini has used his reputation wisely post retirement to cement himself into the running of football first in his native France then later at UEFA. His rapid ascent through the football ranks to become UEFA president would not have been possible if he hadn’t established a pedigree on the pitch. Quite simply he would have not have had a seat at the table without it, a fact that Platini is keenly aware of. However Platini the player has now progressed into Platini the politician – a suave, calculated operator who leverages his knowledge of the game and his ideas by encasing them in his rich Gallic charm. But unlike a politician, Platini can separate his opinion from that of the organization allowing him to rock the apple cart without letting one fall from it. When the Swiss authorities arrested several key FIFA delegates at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich in May, many in opposition to Sepp Blatter’s reign took it as an opportunity to slam his running of FIFA publically to any media outlet nearby. But Platini took a different route by going to meet with Blatter one on one and pleading with his friend to step down. Blatter rejected the idea claiming it was too late to do so but days later recanted and did indeed resigned.
Despite their differences, Blatter and Platini are friends, aligned closely due to shared interests. That said, Platini has told the FIFA president in no uncertain terms that what has happened under his watch is simply unacceptable and that his reputation within the game lies in tatters. Blatter will depart form FIFA next February by which time Platini should be the clear favourite to replace him. He may have delayed his announcement to run for as long as possible but his intent was always there. Gaining the support of the majority of the six confederations was important to avoid ending the election with egg on his face. With four now secure including Africa and Asia, Platini has time to win over the remaining two, one of which should be incredibly easy given that he is their current sitting president. Abandoning that position may be viewed as detrimental to UEFA SO Platini will look to lock in his successor if not formally but at least in principle. Current vice president Michael van Praag, UEFA executive David Gill and the inexperienced Portuguese legend Luis Figo should all be front-runners, each offering something different to a Platini run FIFA.
In the next few months, Platini will make his case for reform at FIFA. His manifesto will be etched onto a chalkboard not stone to allow for greater flexibility and fluidity than the current regime offers. Matters concerning the restructuring of FIFA, the purifying of its members and the unravelling of key decisions such as the World Cup award to Qatar will be crucial sections that will be scrutinized the most. But there will also be a fair amount of Platini ideas scattered in amongst it – changes he sees that would be to the betterment of the game in the long run. He has shown as UEFA president that he is not willing to sit back and let things run as they have done for centuries. During the last eight years since Platini was elected to UEFA’s highest chair, he has made changes to almost every tournament under its jurisdiction, most notably abandoning the European Championships single country format for hosting in favour of a multi country extravaganza. But he has also tackled the bigger issues including child trafficking, racism and in recent years club debt that is threatening to cripple the game. Platini is at heart a reformist, someone who wants to adjust the norm rather than destroying it. After years of behind doors corruption at FIFA, Platini’s arrival could be exactly what it needs.