Michel Platini declared himself a happy UEFA president at the conclusion of the European federation annual congress in Vienna. He had every right to smile.
He had been re-elected, unopposed, by acclamation for a third four-year term in office; he had seen his preference, England’s David Gill, selected as FIFA’s new British vice-president; he had seen UEFA’s three candidates for the FIFA presidency all talk up their desire to oust the watching Sepp Blatter; and all the departmental, administrative and financial reports had reported a bonny state of all-round health.
Not that Platini is complacent. His keynote address to delegates from the 54 member associations and assorted regional confederation leaders sounded notes of caution and concern.
Notably Platini cautioned of a return to the “dark days” of hooliganism unless governmental and police authorities across Europe stepped up efforts to combat a problem which appeared linked to the rise of extremist nationalism.
He reiterated his previous proposal for the creation of a European sports police force to prevent a repeat of events witnessed in the “not-so-distant past, a past where hooligans and all manner of fanatics called the shots in certain European stadiums.”
Platini called to mind his own personal experience, having been a player with Juventus when crowd trouble before the 1985 Champions Cup Final against Liverpool at the Heysel stadium in Brussels led to the deaths of 39 people.
He complained that UEFA had been “left to fend for ourselves somewhat” to combat “battles that can only be won with the help of the public authorities”.
He added: “In recent months, we have all been struck by certain images that I thought were a thing of the past. Some of us experienced that past at first hand. In my case, it was exactly 30 years ago.
“Nobody wants a repeat of such events. We need tougher stadium bans at European level and – I will say it again – the creation of a European sports police force. This is something I starting calling for back in 2007, just after I was first elected.”
As far as the tetchy relationship between UEFA and FIFA was concerned, Platini insisted that UEFA would continue to work closely with the world federation whatever the outcome of its presidential election on May 29; incumbent Sepp Blatter is being challenged by three UEFA-backed candidates in Prince Ali of Jordan, Dutchman Michael Van Praag and Portugal’s Luis Figo.
Van Praag presented by far the most combative campaign address of all the three candidates.
He raged: “The beautiful heritage of international football has been tarnished by ever continuing accusations of corruption, bribery, nepotism and waste of money. FIFA has accomplished great things. But the current state of disarray asks for a change in leadership. It is the responsibility of our generation to clean up the mess.”
Blatter remained above the fray. He had been offered to address congress as a candidate but preferred to speak in his role as FIFA president, delivering a mere catalogue of platitudes, many of which his audience had heard before.
He remains favourite to win the FIFA election but he would carry on for a fifth term with a couple of spiky new members in his executive in Gill, the former Manchester United ceo and vice-chairman of the Football Association, as well as Wolfgang Niersbach, the German federation president.
Niersbach replaces fellow countryman Theo Zwanziger whose loose-cannon behaviour had generated the only irritation Platini displayed.
At his post-congress press conference Platini said: “There’s been no co-operation between UEFA and Mr Zwanziger. We don’t want to give any further publicity to Mr Zwanzger. We know Mr Niersbach, he has been working with us in the UEFA executive committee for two years. He’s a good guy and we can count on him to defend the value of European football at FIFA.”
Then Platini was all smiles again.