After years of waiting, Michel Platini’s destiny with FIFA is coming faster than he thought.
Platini’s 60th birthday today gives him much to celebrate and a big decision to take.
Long seen as the heir apparent to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, his former mentor now turned embattled adversary, it is an open question if the elected leader of European soccer and former France great truly wants the duties that come with the top job.
The opportunity is certainly open like never before to Platini, whose path had seemed blocked until at least 2019.
“I will be 64, there is a last thing to do,” Platini said of his unfulfilled ambitions in March, when Blatter’s grip on the FIFA throne looked as inevitable as death and taxes.
All that changed on May 27, when the US Department of Justice unleashed a bribery and racketeering indictment on some of world soccer’s top officials, sending FIFA into near-meltdown.
Blatter has not been targeted — yet — and even won another four-year presidential term two days later, after ignoring Platini’s personal plea to resign for the good of the sport.
Still, the federal investigation has FIFA firmly in its sights, so 79-year-old Blatter on June 2 announced that he would not be a candidate at a new election to be held within months.
Now Platini is expected to enter a presidential race one campaign later than some of his European voters thought was right, either because they believe Blatter should have kept a 2011 promise to step aside this year or that Platini should simply have gone head-to-head with him.
“Now is not my time, not yet,” Platini said in Monaco in August last year when justifying his decision not to stand against Blatter. Instead, a UEFA proxy, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, was sent into gallant defeat.
It sounded to most observers then like a frustrated acceptance of Blatter’s mastery, both of FIFA politics and loyal voters from countries far away from the elite European game that Platini dominated as a player and now leads as UEFA president.
Platini does not like to lose and, as one of the greatest No. 10s in soccer history, lifted two of the three biggest team prizes open to him.
He captained host France to win the 1984 European Championship — his nine-goal tally ranks among the finest individual tournament performances — and scored the winning goal for Juventus in the 1985 European Cup final.
Only FIFA’s World Cup eluded him. France lost semi-finals to West Germany in 1982 and 1986.
Becoming FIFA president would neatly complete Platini’s achievements in soccer, and he clearly covets a job that Blatter once groomed him for before their falling out.
However, when Platini talks of being reluctant to walk away from UEFA, it is more than just a politicians’ answer to deflect attention from his real ambition.
Platini would give up much involvement in actual soccer matches if installed at FIFA, which peaks only every four years at the World Cup.
As UEFA president since 2007, Platini has seen European teams win the past two World Cups and oversees a quadrennial European Championship, whose global TV ratings rival the Summer Olympics, plus the season-long Champions League, which showcases the highest-quality soccer played anywhere.
People familiar with Platini’s thinking have noted to reporters that becoming FIFA president would take him away from the Euro 2016 hosted by France.
The tournament is even more personal, as it is the first with 24 teams instead of 16 — a campaign promise that lifted Platini to the UEFA helm in a tight election against Blatter’s old enemy, Lennart Johansson of Sweden.
In private conversations, people linked to UEFA have also questioned if Platini wants to trade relatively relaxed duties working in a French-speaking region of Switzerland for the greater global travel and scrutiny working from FIFA’s home in German-speaking Zurich, Switerzland.
Blatter has relished turning the FIFA presidency into a quasi-political role similar to a head of state. Platini is more at ease with his top shirt button undone and tie askew.
A barbed comment this week from the Blatter camp targeted this potential disconnect.
“You can’t just take a footballer or Michel Platini to become [FIFA] president,” Blatter’s election adviser, Zurich-based public relations executive Klaus Stoehlker, told reporters.
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