Michel Platini will not stand for FIFA president next year. Here in Monte Carlo today the leader of European federation UEFA jumped off his French fence to say he will not challenge incumbent Sepp Blatter at the world governing body’s election congress in May of 2015.
Platini’s decision will disappoint many European associations, especially England, who are impatient to see Blatter head off into the Swiss sunset after nearly 40 contentious years at FIFA in one role or another.
However the 59-year-old Frenchman believes he would be both misguided and disloyal to his European constituency to move from Nyon to Zurich when so many grand designs remain incomplete.
Platini emerged from a meeting with presidents of Europe’s 54 national associations to say: “Everyone talks about FIFA elections but before that come the UEFA elections and I have decided to run for the presidency of UEFA. I told them this was a choice of mine and based on my heart, football and my passion.
“We have big projects in UEFA and I have a great deal of motivation to carry them through before, maybe one day, moving on to something else.
“I want to complete what I have started. As a player I always wanted to go to the end of my contract and live up to my commitments. Now, if the federations wish – and I believe they wish it sincerely – I have a few years before my UEFA contract ends.
“I have thought long and hard but never managed to convince myself that I should go to FIFA. It’s that simple.
“I chose from the heart and I am making this decision without any regrets as a natural choice, as something obvious and I am more committed than ever to defend the interests of European football and of its national associations on the world stage.
“Whether this means the number of slots for Europe in the World Cup finals, the international calendar – they can count on me to be on the front line when it comes to all these battles.
“What is important is the future of football and European football in particular.”
Thus Platini finally put an end to speculation which began in May 2011 when Blatter indicated that the four-year term to which he had just been elected would be his last.
Blatter made that retirement statement under heavy pressure as he sought a pathway through the mountains of scandal which had turned FIFA into a laughing stock. At that point only one tenable alternative candidate existed: Platini.
No other member of the exco possessed his footballing status. He had also wielded the levers of power effectively at UEFA in voter-friendly ways to expand middle-rank access to the Champions League and create financial fair play.
Over the past three years, however, Blatter has retreated steadily from the prospect of retirement; simultaneously Platini, at just about the same pace, has retreated from the prospect of standing for election.
Nominations for the FIFA presidency do not need to be confirmed until the end of next January so Platini has been in no rush to declare himself one way or another.
At a UEFA strategy meeting in Dubrovnik last September, however, he did say he would make a further statement some time after the World Cup in Brazil. Monaco, this week, was the first opportunity.
Only one man thus far has declared himself as a challenger and that is Frenchman Jerome Champagne. The former FIFA general secretary has a creative vision for the future of FIFA but accepts he would have no electoral chance against Blatter.
Neither, realistically, would Platini since Blatter has widespread support across the other five regional confederations as their own gatherings made abundantly clear in Sao Paulo on the eve of FIFA Congress in early June.
Platini had supported Blatter in securing the FIFA presidency in 1998. Blatter responded by appointing Platini as his football counsellor. However Platini, while creating the first integrated international calendar, soon came to realise – as he told this writer – that “without votes you have no power.”
This led him in 2007, to oust Lennart Johansson, as president of UEFA, a role which also carried an automatic vice-presidency of FIFA.
Talk of 78-year-old Blatter engineering a presidential hand-over to Platini at some stage has been ill-informed.
If the elected FIFA president is incapacitated for any reason then the senior vice-president takes up the reins of office. Senior vice-president, since the death last month of veteran Argentinian director Julio Grondona, is Issa Hayatou, the Cameroonian president of the African confederation.
FIFA statutes rule that he would serve as acting president until an election at the next scheduled annual congress.
Second behind Hayatou in terms of executive committee service is Angel Maria Villar, the Spanish federation president. Platini comes next i.e., ‘only’ third in the line of succession.
FIFA, in all its 110 years, has had only eight presidents, seven of them European.
The first was Robert Guerin (France) followed by Daniel Woolfall (England), Jules Rimet (France), Rodolfe Seeldrayers (Belgium), Arthur Drewry then Sir Stanley Rous (both England). Brazilian Joao Havelange ousted Rous in 1974 and reigned for 24 years before retiring and being succeeded by Blatter in 1998.
Blatter had been a marketing manager for Swiss timing firm Longines before being hand-picked for a FIFA development role by influential Adidas powerbroker Horst Dassler in 1975. He became FIFA development director before taking over as general secretary and then chief executive.
Attempts to oust sitting presidents in modern times have ended in dismal failure. Italian Antonio Matarrese was run out of sight by Havelange in 1994 and Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou was roundly defeated by Blatter in 2002. Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam ran against Blatter in 2011 but was barred from contesting the election after being suspended in a cash-for-votes scandal.
In Sao Paulo in June, on the eve of FIFA Congress, the corridors of UEFA power buzzed with the idea that another senior European figure should run against Blatter next year as a token of dissatisfaction. Holland’s Michael Van Praag and Germany’s Wolfgang Niersbach were names floated. Van Praag was non-commital while Niersbach vehemently denied wanting to be a pawn in a game of gesture politics.