Fifa presidential candidate goes on the offensive, but campaign could be damaged.
Michel Platini has launched a campaign to rescue his reputation, his status as UEFA president and his bid to take over the leadership of world football federation FIFA. But his second statement in four days still leaves issues tantalisingly unanswered.
On Friday the French president of the European governing body was questioned by Swiss investigators over the payment to him in 2011 of 2m Swiss francs due from work for FIFA between 1999 and 2002.
Platini was questioned at the Home of FIFA in Zurich immediately after the conclusion of a two-day executive committee meeting. He was named by the Office of the Swiss Attorney-General [Michael Lauber] as having received a ‘disloyal payment’ from FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter.
The issue is one of two which are the subjects of a formal criminal investigation against Blatter himself who would risk a maximum of 10 years in jail if found guilty.
Both Blatter and Platini – initial favourite to take over as FIFA president at the election next February 26 – have denied all wrongdoing.
The payment prompted speculation that the issue would seriously damage, if not wreck, Platini’s FIFA power bid. He issued a first statement in his own defence on Friday evening but failed to provide any sort of explanation concerning the nine-year gap between the completion of his FIFA work and the payment itself.
The timing of the payment also raised eyebrows because it was made shortly after Platini had changed his mind to vote for Qatar as 2022 World Cup hist and just before he was mandated to commit UEFA to support Blatter in the forthcoming 2011 FIFA elections.
Platini, who has avoided the media as much as possible since his candidacy declaration back on July 29, has now written to all the 55 member associations of UEFA seeking to clarify further his initial comment.
He opened by acknowledging “speculation about the facts that concern me personally.” He reiterated that he had “not been accused of any wrongdoing” and offered “for reasons of transparency” to explain the background.
At no point, however, does Platini explain the payment delay which will fail to allay concerns about whether, now, he is the right man to take FIFA forward.
Platini wrote: “For the period 1998 to 2002 I was employed by FIFA to work on a wide range of matters relating to football. It was a full-time job and my functions were known by all.
“The remuneration was agreed at the time and after initial paymenfs were made, the final outstanding amount of 2m Sw Fr was paid in February 2001. The income has all been fully declared by me to the authorities, in accordance with Swiss law.”
That statement in itself brings a new element, raising questions about how much Platini was paid in total for his work as Blatter’s ‘football counsellor’ if the 2m SwFr was merely a final instalment.
Platini continued: “I was interviewed by the Swiss authorities about this matter last Friday, not as a person accused of any wrongdoing, but simply in my capacity as a person providing information.”
He said he written to the FIFA Ethics Chambers, volunteering to provide “whatever additional information may be needed to clear this matter up.”
Platini acknowledged that “these events may harm my image and my reputation and by consequence, the image of UEFA . . . For these reasons I wish to use all my energies to ensure that any issues or misunderstandings can be resolved as soon as possible.”
Unless and until Platini acts in accordance publicly with the “transparency” he purports to serve, doubts over his credibility will remain. His statement that he made no reference to his FIFA bid, only to his status as president of UEFA, “the organisation of which I am proud to be president.”
This may suggest that maintaining the support of his European constituency and leadership of the continental governing body is now more of a priority than taking over as head of the world game.
Platini has received unequivocal support from his French homeland from Prime Minister Manuel Valls and French football federation leader Noel Le Graet.
Valls said: “We are fortunate in having Michel Platini, who was a great sportsman and is now a great leader at the head of UEFA. I have complete confidence in him.”
Le Graet, who had a long telephone discussion with the former captain and manager of the French national team, said: “Platini is down in the dumps. I’ve had him on the phone for a long time and her remains a candidate [for FIFA] more than ever.
“The truth will not take long to emerge but it will not affect Michel Platini.”