Michel Platini has been tipped, long-term, as a possible future president of FIFA. For now, however, he has enough on his plate as leader of the European federation, UEFA… as he revealed in a wide-ranging interview on the eve of the 2011-12 Champions League campaign.
Michel Platini: My message for football is alarmist: red lights are flashing, we cannot live with billions of euros of deficits without paying the consequences one day or another. We ignore the problems at our peril.
You can see it with players not being paid, transfer fees not being paid. We have to get around a table, and not just UEFA. We need a global reflection on professional football. I’m afraid for our game when I see some things going so badly. We need some very serious reflection.
I’m not saying I’m afraid for the future of football itself: football will always be played in the schoolyard, in the street. Football also has so many good qualities and values that it’s important for us to send out a message of hope and say positive things from time to time.
What I am worried about is the future of professional football. It’s going pear-shaped with all these problems such as match-fixing, corruption, violence, racism, hooliganism and debts.
Is the game ready for Financial Fair Play?
There is no alternative. Clubs have to live within their means because we are facing huge problems. At the moment financial fair play will affect only clubs involved in UEFA’s European competitions but, sooner or later, we’ll have to address the situation within national competitions, because some leagues are not in control of their domestic financial situation.
Maybe there are too many players or too many leagues to pay so many players to be professional. But we have to deal with the reality we find. With Financial Fair Play we are trying to protect the clubs not punish them.
We established the rules, we took a vote and everyone agreed – so everyone should now respect those rules. They will apply to everybody and I want to send a very clear message that we will not be pressed to take a step back on this. Anyone who does not respect the rules will be sanctioned because we have all agreed to that as well.
Expulsion from European competitions would be the ultimate sanction if it should ever come to that. It’s strange: the fans of clubs who don’t have money want Financial Fair Play; the fans who support clubs owned by Qataris don’t want it.
How do you view the crisis within FIFA?
FIFA has had a difficult year. Election years are always difficult for institutions and it was particularly tiring for me since lots of people were putting pressure on me to stand. Mohamed Bin Hammam actually asked me to stand against [Sepp] Blatter.
The difficulty for Blatter is that the members of the executive committee are not chosen by him and if there is anyone who is corrupted then this is an issue for the people and associations who choose them. If anyone has been corrupted then it has not been because of Mr Blatter. All the big attacks on FIFA are mainly on other people, not on him.
I know he is not an angel. He is a typical politician. But he will want to leave a good memory of his time as president. So he has to make changes. There are eight of us from UEFA on the executive committee and we have told him he needs to do this work and we will support him in it.
I spoke with him in July and he told me he would present his proposals to the executive committee in October. He has volunteered to produce a revolution. If he cleans up FIFA then he will be remembered positively and I think that is his objective. We, in Europe, in UEFA, are here to help him.
Happily I can say also that last year was a great season for football itself, with a dream Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona in a magnificent setting such as Wembley which was a breath of fresh air at a time when there were all these problems at FIFA.
Barcelona against Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho’s behaviour in the Spanish Supercup wasn’t such a good avertisement for the game, was it?
I am a player at heart not a politician. I can only remind players, referees and coaches that they have a very important role to play. It’s a shame when we have the wonderful spectacle I saw in the match between Real Madrid and Barcelona yet we end up talking about not the wonderful 89 minutes but what happened in the one minute which came right at the end. The players from Barcelona and Real Madrid should know it’s very important that we give a positive message about football.
As for Mourinho everyone makes mistakes so he had to be punished by the disciplinary committee of the Spanish national association. My view is a personal one, a philosophical one, if you like: someone who is a great coach is a role model and should set an example, not only to the fans but also to all the other coaches. Great people have to be examples. They have to be clean and behave beautifully. Because what about the other millions of coaches? What are they thinking, that everything is permitted because he does something like this?
What about the suspension of Arsene Wenger for relaying messages to his Arsenal team when he was suspended from the bench?
I have to support my disciplinary committee but I am not in love with this regulation. You can’t ban a coach effectively from a stadium because with modern communication he can do what he wants. He can sit at home in front of his television and send an SMS to the bench. There is a lot of confusion. We will discuss this with the elite coaches and perhaps bring in a new regulation from 2012.
Are you still concerned about foreign investors buying clubs?
Yes because I don’t know where this system will lead us. I am old-fashioned about these things. If people from outside want to put money into football then that’s fine but my worry is what will happen when they change their mind and take their money away? Then their clubs will disappear.
I am a big fan of Real Madrid or Barcelona where the socios [members] are the voice of the club. I like the fact that the clubs belong to the fans. These are the people who protect a club’s local identity. Everything else has changed: the president may be foreign, the players may be foreign, the coach may be foreign and they all come and go. But the fans stay all the time. This sense of identity is one of things which has made football so popular.
So how do you view the incredible spending of the Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala, in signing Samuel Eto’o?
At least the man [Sulejman Kerimov] who is putting all this money into Anzhi comes from there so he has a local connection and that is fine. It’s a new world.
What is your attitude to the international calendar? Some people have suggested having two blocks of dates in a year reserved just for national team football. Would you support that?
To strike a balance between interests of countries and clubs is not easy. We are looking at the idea of blocks but as one idea among others. Gianni Infantino [UEFA general secretary] has been asked by FIFA to look at the next match calendar which will run from 2014 to 2018. Many things may change or may stay the same. I know people are not happy with the friendly match date in August. But you can’t keep everyone happy all the time. There are only 52 weeks in the year.
Karl-Heinz Rummemigge, chairman of the European Club Association, was outspoken about FIFA and the international calendar. Did he go too far?
My relations with Mr Rummenigge have always been very good – except once when I was with Juventus and his Inter beat us 4-0. He and I have the same determination to move things forward. We share a lot of the same views. He just happens to be a bit more aggressive – as he always was as a player.
But we must all understand we are in a global environment so these issues have to be resolved on a political level not in a personally aggressive manner. There are a lot of things to take into account, worldwide. Within FIFA the European clubs don’t count for much; Europe is only a small player in a global context.
What about the transfer window? Should the deadline be earlier than August 31?
Ask Mr Blatter. This was set up by FIFA. One thing I don’t like is seeing players changing clubs after the season starts. That shouldn’t happen. At least, not in the same country. How can someone play for Milan against Juventus and then Juventus against Milan in the same season? The transfer of a player between different countries is different because of different countries’ seasons.
Where do you stand on binationality?
FIFA is a global organisation with people who have a lot of different agendas. Personally I think that when a player reaches the age of 18, when he is an adult, then it is up to him to choose once and for all at that stage for which country he wishes to play – if he is good enough – so he is not fair game for countries to bargain over him at a later stage. We proposed this at FIFA once but other people didn’t want it and most voted against us. What we have now is not a rule I like but it’s not up to me. We just have to work with it.
When you switched the Champions League Final to a Saturday you said it was to make it more of a family occasion but families couldn’t afford to go to Wembley. What has happened to ticket prices?
Yes, there were problems with the price of tickets. Don’t forget, the prices were the proposals of the local, English, organising committee and I just said: “Yes, OK.” But that was a mistake. Our mistake. My mistake. We have to look at this in future and think more about the real fans. We never want tickets ending up on the black market. I want the real fans there.
Is Lionel Messi the greatest player you have ever seen?
Lionel Messi is a diamond. But every generation believes it has the best hero. Pele was considered the best in the 1950s and 1960s; Johan Cruyff was supposed to be the best in the 1970s; Zinedine Zidane in the 2000s.
People always ask me about Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who are two equally brilliant players but with different styles. Messi is more successful at the moment because he is winning more titles with his club. As I said, Messi is a diamond and Barcelona’s philosophy is to surround this diamond with pearls.
You can have different philosophies so you can win with different ways of playing. In the 1980s the French national team played like Barcelona, without a real centre-forward, and the coach, Michel Hidalgo, used three No10s. That is what is wonderful about football. Today Barcelona are winning with an extremely attractive style of football but that doesn’t always happen.
I’m not going to compare Messi with great players from those times. Every generation has had the best player of all time. Cruyff in the 1970s, Pele in the 1950s and 1960s then Zidane in the 2000s. Nowadays it’s Messi. I would say that he has one advantage compared with the others in that he is much better protected by referees – which is as it should be. He can play his football and express his ability. In the past players had to think first about avoiding being kicked.
Is the concept of 6+5 to try to maintain domestic identity in a club team dead now?
This idea of 6+5 for a team was a good idea but it is not possible for the European Union. The European Union understands our position that we want to protect the local identities of clubs and it asked FIFA and UEFA to undertake more research. So we came up with this idea of 9+9 for each matchday squad. It might be a good idea. But before we put this to Congress we are trying to see if the whole football family will support is. We need global reflection. Until then it is not possible for us to go to the European Commission.
Are you confident you have an effective system in place now to combat match-fixing?
We were at a crisis point. So, a year ago, we changed the system. Now we have, within UEFA, a former Swiss prosecutor who works with a network of professionals in each of the different European countries with our Early Warning System.
Getting evidence and prosecutions is not up to us but this is a major problem and we all need to work together to get on top of it. But, basically, it is up to players to protect the integrity of football.
The point is, if the result of the game is known before it is played, what is the point of going to the match, or reporting it? It is a major problem, and together with the clubs, the national associations, FIFA and the other confederations we must stop it. You know, when I used to go to Fenerbahce the people used to love me but if I went back now I think they would want to hang me.
There are a lot of red lights flashing and it’s my role as UEFA president to think about these things. Believe me, there is nothing glamorous about being the president of FIFA, or UEFA: it comes with a lot of responsibilities and one of those is to maintain the integrity of the game.