ZURICH • Michel Platini may have emerged as favourite to succeed Sepp Blatter as president of scandal-riddled Fifa but it is his close links to the Swiss that threaten to end his dreams of running world football's governing body.
The Uefa president and 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.
The outgoing head of Fifa was accused of making a "disloyal payment" to Platini of 2 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. But he offered no explanation as to why the payment had arrived almost a decade after the work had been completed and three months before he announced he would not challenge Blatter for re-election during that year's race for the Fifa presidency.
"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."
He had also given his support to Blatter when the Swiss won the 1998 Fifa presidential elections.
He was a close ally to Blatter for a long time, even though 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. 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.
At Uefa, Platini has been an effective, artful figurehead, boasting the football credibility to push through "financial fair play" rules requiring top clubs to balance their books.
Seen as Blatter's protege for years, the two fell out, which Blatter recently explained began when he felt "sidelined" at the 2008 European Championship opening ceremony. He was not allocated a seat close to Swiss President Pascal Couchepin. Switzerland and Austria were the co-hosts.
Platini said he told his old ally to step down in June but Blatter maintained his candidacy for Fifa president despite the multiple arrests of Fifa officials on United States corruption charges.
Then, after he decided to step down, Platini announced he would stand to replace him.
The Frenchman quickly emerged as the favourite to win the elections which will be held on Feb 26.
But his rivals, including South Korea's Chung Mong Joon, have accused him of being tainted by association with Blatter.
A former Fifa insider said yesterday that Platini's hopes of being elected to replace Blatter next year had been damaged by the revelations on Friday.
"Platini took a serious blow by even being mentioned in the Swiss statement," the source said.
"Blatter is finished now and Platini will struggle to recover from being questioned."
Platini has also been criticised for his decision to support Qatar's controversial bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
He 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 last year. "I have no regrets at all.
"I think it was the right choice for Fifa and world football."
Platini has denied he was influenced to vote for Qatar by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
However, the fact that his son Laurent works for a Qatar-owned sports clothing company had also raised suspicions.
He also courted controversy over his refusal to hand back a watch worth more than US$25,000 (S$35,600) 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 its code of ethics.
Platini has been presenting himself as the European clean-up candidate after Fifa's implosion in corruption scandals. It remains to be seen whether the Swiss investigation, in which Platini is named only as "a person asked to provide information", will leave him untainted.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN