Commentary

The fall of Platini resembles the descent of Icarus

Michel Platini has always left others to sweat the small stuff.

From his prodigiously talented playing days to his smooth rise through the administrative ranks - via the France World Cup 1998 organising committee, as Sepp Blatter's right-hand man and then as the head of European football - his ascent has been insouciant and seemingly effortless.

Outrageously talented on the pitch, he was able to use his sublime skills to escape any difficult corner.

But it seems that a lack of attention to detail and a belief that he plays by different rules have emerged as his fatal flaws.

If Blatter's downfall has been endlessly signposted, as rumour has mounted upon rumour and dogged investigative journalism has produced a solid body of evidence until finally the FBI stepped in, then Platini's has been more sudden - at least in the eyes of much of the footballing public.

As recently as late September, he was a virtual shoo-in to replace Blatter as Fifa president.

That all changed when Michael Lauber, the Swiss attorney-general, questioned Platini as someone "between a witness and an accused person" over an alleged "disloyal payment" - to use the term in Swiss law - that could bring him down.

France Football magazine has taken the lead in questioning one of the country's national icons, as the seductive edifice of a playing great turned football administrator fighting the good fight for all that is pure has crumbled.

Everything we know about Platini suggests that he probably thought he was doing nothing wrong when he asked for that 2 million Swiss francs (S$2.8 million) from Blatter shortly before the 2011 Uefa congress in Paris.

Just as he saw nothing wrong with his son Laurent taking a job with a sportswear firm owned by the same Qatar sovereign wealth fund that owns Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) 12 months after he voted for the tiny Gulf state to host the World Cup. Just as he had no issue with Uefa commissioning his former son-in-law to write the Europa League theme music.

So it is no surprise that Platini also saw no problem with his now infamous meeting with the Qatari crown prince (now Emir) Sheikh Tamim Hamad Khalifa Al Thani and the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, nine days before the World Cup vote in December 2010.

In the air were various major trade deals, including a contract to sell Airbus planes to Qatar Air, and a prospective deal for QSI (Qatar Sports Investments) to buy PSG.

Although Platini has admitted that he initially leaned towards voting for the USA, he has repeatedly insisted that his vote to take the World Cup to Qatar was his personal choice alone.

In January 2011, during a lunch break in the midst of a presentation to the press on how financial fair play would work, Platini would make the case to a gaggle of reporters that the 2022 World Cup should be played in the winter and spread across the Gulf.

So just a month after voting for Qatar, he was advocating a wholly different tournament to the one he had backed.

"Who will remember the words in 12 years?" said Platini, relaxed over lunch in the heart of his Uefa stronghold. "In 12 years, everybody will be happy to have a very well-organised World Cup and not remember what's happened before. When I organised the World Cup in France, we did (things) differently from what we proposed in the bid."

After Platini helped Blatter defeat Lennart Johansson, the Uefa president, in Fifa's 1998 election, the Frenchman took up a position as a paid adviser to the Swiss.

It is that contract, or rather the lack of one for the "oral agreement" that guaranteed another 2 million Swiss francs, that led to his travails.

In an interview shortly after his suspension, Platini likened himself to Icarus. In 2016 he had imagined himself attending the European Championship in his native France, 32 years after he won the tournament as a player.

Instead he has crashed to earth in the most dramatic way possible.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'The fall of Platini resembles the descent of Icarus'. Print Edition | Subscribe