Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On Platini's Failure

I admit that watching Michel Platini’s career self-implode over the past few weeks has left me feeling a little smug.

Although I had nothing against the man personally, I always wanted and expected him to fail.

There’s no doubt that he was a fantastic player, easily one of the best ever and possibly for a time the best of his generation.

While my only memories of Platini in the 1978 World Cup were secondhand, the result of reading what a great talent he was, such was the limited TV coverage available in New Zealand at the time, like many others I fondly recall his fantastic performances leading the great French team in 1982 and 1986, and am fully aware that perhaps his greatest performance in a major tournament fell midway between these two World Cups, when he top-scored on his way to lifting the 1984 European Nations Cup.

Of course the other players in those French teams were hardly unskilled. Players like Trésor, Genghini, Giresse, Six, Rocheteau and Stopyra would have graced any team in those tournaments. Put Platini in the 1980 All Whites that lost 3-1 to Tahiti and 4-0 to Fiji in the 1980 Oceania Nations Cup and he may not have looked so good.

But fortunately he was French, at a time when they had a wonderful national team. What a player!

My initial problem with Platini’s burgeoning career in football administration was the attitudes and views expressed by so many that somehow a former top player would, unquestionably, make a first class football administrator.

It’s an idea that hasn’t lost its popularity. As recently as the run-up to the last FIFA Presidential election, there were numerous people supporting Luis Figo or David Ginola, purely because of their notable playing careers.

This view made as much sense to me as the logically equivalent idea that to play at the top level and lead your team to international glory, you should first have had a career as a successful CEO.

We already know that great players don’t necessarily make great coaches (Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst are two prime examples). Nor, I suspect, would great players necessarily make great referees, or great physiotherapists or great groundsmen.

So why would anyone believe that someone highly skilled at manipulating a football, making penetrating forward runs or arriving unmarked at the far post in a World Cup Quarter-Final against Brazil on his birthday, would automatically be top class at analyzing reports, pushing through legislative changes, creating budgets, overseeing multi-million dollar international development programmes or know where to begin to clean up an egregiously corrupt organization?

Even the fact that he played at the top level doesn’t necessarily aid his cause. The vast majority of past, current and future players, coaches, referees and administrators for whom FIFA is the worldwide body have been and will be involved in levels of the game far below those that Platini was involved in. They can relate much more to the footballing experiences of a skilled office manager or administrator who once played ten to fifteen years at grassroots level, coached a youth team, refereed high school level games or organized bus transportation for the team or fans than they can to Platini’s experiences in the game.

When is the last time Platini:

- Joined a club and had to pay for the privilege, rather than receiving numeration?
- Suffered a serious ankle injury while playing and drove himself home and then had his wife drive him to the emergency room?
- Drove himself and his wife five hours to an away last sixteen cup-tie, spent the night in a youth hostel, got up ridiculously early (in winter) to view penguins on a windswept beach, then drove to the match and played a part in a 2-0 victory against the fourth best team in the country, before winning a box of groceries in the clubroom raffle for good measure?
- Had a player try to sit on his lap while he was on the bench watching his team of six year-old girls play?
- Refereed five tournament matches in a row without even a single assistant referee?
- Placed the ball for a corner-kick on a cold winter morning, took three steps back and felt his foot break through the ice and into the freezing stream that ran alongside the pitch?
- Organised fixture lists so that parents who helpfully agreed to coach two of their children’s teams would be guaranteed to be able to watch both teams play every match?

While I played a number of years at a reasonable level, but never at the highest possible, my international career consisting of a single second half appearance for NZ Universities in a meaningless match against the Waikato Under 23's in 1990, those are some of my experiences in football and I’m sure there are tens of thousands of participants around the world who can relate. I doubt Michel Platini is one of them.

Platini has always struck me as someone who is happiest handing out the medals at major finals, hobnobbing with footballing royalty or eating a meal in a top class restaurant.

Even before his current fall from grace, in which he appears to have received a ‘disloyal payment’ from Sepp Blatter and then spent the following ten days (so far) giving increasingly unlikely explanations for what the payment was for and why it took nine years to receive it, his actual record at UEFA has been questionable.

Platini it was who increased the Euros from sixteen to 24 teams, partially, no doubt, to aid his own presidential campaigns. The idea, ostensibly, is to allow more nations the opportunity to play in the Euros. The logical extension of this idea is surely to allow all 54 European nations to play in the Finals, thereby allowing the luxury of scrapping the qualifying matches. This would free up time for the first round of matches to be played in a home and away group format so that every single UEFA-based international team could host Euro matches, with the best sixteen progressing to the later rounds, which could perhaps be held in a single country.

Yes, I’m being facetious.

It was also Platini who opposed the introduction of goal-line technology, insisting it was a slippery slope and that accurate decisions could just as well be made by the addition of extra officials on the goal-line. Discussing the disallowed goal scored by England against Germany in the 2010 World Cup Second Round, it was Platini who said, “If an official had been beside the goal that day, he would have spotted that Lampard's shot crossed the line. “

Two days later his words came back to haunt him in the Euros when a shot from Ukraine’s Marko Devic looped off Joe Hart and crossed the goal-line right in front of one of Platini’s goal-line judges, before being hooked out by John Terry. Despite it being his main job, the goal-line judge did not signal a goal.

Anecdotal evidence from multiple seasons of European club competition suggests that the extra officials rarely make any decisions that aren’t made by referees. To anyone with experience in refereeing, this should come as no surprise. My own experience is that the more referees there are in a match, the less likely it is that any one official wants to make a decision that seemingly disagrees with the referee’s decision or non-decision.

Platini it also was who promised the United States he would vote for the 2022 World Cup to be held in America, before meeting with Nikolas Sarkozy and the Emir of Qatar and then switching his vote to Qatar. When asked how the players would cope with the excessive heat he replied that he always thought the World Cup should be held in winter, thereby severely negatively affecting the big leagues in the UEFA countries he is supposed to represent. Meanwhile his son picked up a nice little gig in Qatar, completely unrelated to Platini's vote, of course.

Platini also promoted an increase to 40 teams in the World Cup Finals, in eight groups of five. It would only add three days, he argued, forgetting that each team would now have to play one extra match and also have a bye while the other four teams in their group faced off. He would surely be unable to explain how this format would fit into the 28 day Qatar 2022 World Cup that has now been foisted upon us. He's a man for ideas, not practicalities or details. If asked about this he would no doubt smile and shrug, as if that somehow constitutes the basis of a decent argument.

And as recently as this month, Platini it was, acting as one member of a three-man panel (the others being his close supporters, the two Sheiks Salman,of Bahrain, and Ahmad, of Kuwait), who agreed with Saudi Arabia that they shouldn't have to play their World Cup Qualifying match in Palestine, unlike the United Arab Emirates who apparently managed to do so without incident. The reasons for the Saudi request and Platini's panel's agreement were, to use a phrase Platini himself recently used, astonishingly vague.

So now we have discovered that in all likelihood, Platini has received a massive payment in 2011 in return for supporting Sepp Blatter in the 2011 FIFA Presidential election rather than running for that office himself or supporting Mohammed bin Hammam. The way things look he'll be found guilty and receive a ban or very long suspension.

But in my mind, he was already guilty of being at best a mediocre UEFA President and FIFA Exco member.

No doubt if he eventually loses support from the fawning UEFA members, some other ex-player will come along and take over the role.

People have very short memories.