PARIS (AFP) - Michel Platini may have emerged as the favourite to succeed Sepp Blatter as president of scandal-riddled Fifa, but it is his close links to the veteran Swiss that threaten to end his dreams of running world football’s governing body.
The current Uefa president and once one of the greatest players in the world when he starred for Saint-Etienne, Juventus and France in the 1980s, Platini has tried to position himself as the man to clean up an organisation brought to its knees by endless corruption scandals in recent months.
But on Friday he was implicated as Swiss authorities opened criminal proceedings against Blatter, with the outgoing head of Fifa accused of making a “disloyal payment” to Platini of two million Swiss francs (S$2.9 million).
The office of Switzerland’s attorney-general said the payment had been made in February 2011, allegedly “for work performed between January 1999 and June 2002.”
Platini insisted the payment was for contractual work carried out for Fifa.
“Concerning the payment that was effected in my favour, I want to clarify that this amount was paid for work that I carried out in a contractual manner for Fifa,” Platini said in a statement.
“I am pleased to have been able to clarify this point with the authorities.”
Platini gave his support to Blatter when the Swiss won the 1998 Fifa presidential elections and was a close ally of Blatter’s for a long time, although he sought to distance himself from the 79-year-old as the scandal grew.
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 wants to take on the huge task of transforming Fifa’s damaged reputation.
He quickly emerged as the favourite to win the elections to replace Blatter, which will be held on Feb 26, 2016, but his rivals, including South Korea’s Chung Mong-Joon, have accused him of being tainted by association with the current Fifa chief.
Chung said that Blatter and Platini once had a “father and son” relationship even though the Frenchman has turned against the Fifa leader.
“The core issue of this election is whether the 40-year-old system of corruption should continue or not,” said Chung recently.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who enjoyed Platini and Uefa’s support when he stood against Blatter in May’s elections for president, is standing again and has turned against Platini, describing him as “not good for football”.
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.
After coaching, Platini concentrated on becoming a leading administrator since performing the role as co-president of the organising committee of the 1998 World Cup in France.
After supporting Blatter’s bid for the Fifa presidency in 1998, he worked as vice-president of the French Football Federation in 2001 and then took 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 – has expressed confidence of succeeding Blatter having opted not to stand against the veteran Swiss in May’s election.
He has had widespread backing, but Platini has also been criticised for his decision to support Qatar’s controversial bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Platini was quick to admit that he voted for Qatar, apparently in an attempt to show that his horizons were not limited to Europe.
“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 also raised suspicions.
He also courted controversy over his refusal to hand back a watch worth more than $25,000 that was gifted to him by the Brazilian Football Confederation at last year’s World Cup.
“I’m a well-educated person. I don’t return gifts,” said Platini, despite Fifa’s call for the watches to be returned for a breach of their code of ethics.