Football: Uefa boss Platini to run for Fifa presidency to replace Blatter

Platini can expect widespread backing, but he will also face some uncomfortable questions.
Platini can expect widespread backing, but he will also face some uncomfortable questions.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP, Bloomberg) - Formerly one of the world's greatest players and currently the most important man in European football, Michel Platini is now targeting the top job in the game after confirming he would stand to become Fifa president.

The Frenchman, a grandson of Italian immigrants, turned 60 earlier this year, and having conquered Europe as a player and then become Uefa chief in 2007, he is now prepared to take on the huge task of transforming scandal-hit Fifa's damaged reputation.

Platini must now be considered the favourite to win the elections to replace Sepp Blatter, which will be held on Feb 26, 2016.

"This was a very personal, carefully considered decision, one in which I weighed up the future of football alongside my own future," Platini said in a statement on Uefa's website on Wednesday.

"Recent events force the supreme governing body of world football to turn over a new leaf and rethink its governance."

Chung Mong Joon, a Fifa honorary vice president and the second-largest shareholder in South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., said he will be a candidate and Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who ran against Blatter in an election earlier this year, may participate in the Feb 26 vote.

Prince Ali was the only opponent in May, when Blatter won a fifth term two days after the arrest of several senior officials. He said the following week he would step down. The US Department of Justice said the charges stemmed from more than two decades of "rampant" corruption at the organisation.

In May, Swiss investigators seized documents and data from Fifa's hilltop headquarters in Zurich as part of widening US Justice Department investigation into the controversial 2010 vote that ended with Russia and Qatar being selected to host the next two World Cup tournaments. That same investigation resulted in the arrest and indictments of 14 football officials and executives when they gathered in Switzerland.

If Platini does win, it will be down to him to oversee the widespread reforms that he himself has called so loudly for. And it will be down to him to clean up and pacify an organisation that is going through the worst crisis in its history.

For a time, Platini was probably the greatest player in the world and won the Ballon d'Or in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

After winning the French Cup with Nancy and a league title with Saint-Etienne, he was lured to Juventus in 1982 and it was while with the Italian giants that he became a major international star.

The gifted playmaker won two Serie A titles with the Turin side and a European Cup in 1985, although that triumph was overshadowed by the events off the field that night at the Heysel Stadium, when 39 fans were killed in crush before the game against Liverpool in Brussels.

"That final remains in my memory, as it remains in the memory of all those who were there, those who lost a loved one, those for whom everything changed in a few terrible minutes," he says of that night.

His crowning moment as a player came a year before Heysel, when he was the outstanding player and scored nine goals for the France team that won the European Championship on home soil.

The World Cup, in contrast, proved to be just beyond him, with Les Bleus losing in the semi-finals in 1982 and 1986.

As a young coach, his France team failed even to qualify for the 1990 World Cup and then bowed out of Euro 92 at the group stage.

Instead, Platini has concentrated on becoming a leading administrator since performing the role as co-president of the organising committee of the 1998 World Cup in France.

He gave his support to Blatter when the Swiss won that year's Fifa presidential elections, before working as vice-president of the French Football Federation in 2001 and then taking charge of Uefa in 2007.

The man who has overseen the expansion of the European Championship - next year's finals in his native France will feature 24 teams for the first time - is confident of succeeding Blatter having opted not to stand against the veteran Swiss in May's election.

He can expect widespread backing, but Platini will also face some uncomfortable questions, not least for his decision to support Qatar's bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Fifa's controversial decision to give the Gulf state the finals despite major concerns about the climate in the Middle East sparked the crisis within the organisation that continues today.

Platini was quick to admit that he voted for Qatar, apparently in an attempt to show that his horizons were not limited to Europe. That revelation led to suspicions that he may have been corrupted.

"I'm transparent, I am the only one who revealed who I voted for and did so by my own initiative," he told French sports daily L'Equipe in 2014.

"I have no regrets at all. I think it was the right choice for FIFA and world football," he added of his vote for Qatar.

Platini has denied he was influenced to vote for Qatar by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, but the fact that his son Laurent works for a Qatar-owned sports clothing company has also raised suspicions.