KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Michel Platini could not have a chosen a more challengingly difficult moment to envisage swapping the smooth-running UEFA machine in Nyon for the scandal-hit turbulence of Zurich and the most important administrative role in world football.
The French president of the Champions League-enriched European federation is clear favourite to be voted in at FIFA’s extraordinary elective congress next February 26. His first test will then be deciding on a list of priorities from among so many demanding issues.
Rescuing the image and perception of FIFA is the overriding concern but that can be achieved only through confronting each item one by one.
A major test for Platini, as an old friend of the outgoing Sepp Blatter, is to demonstrate that he represents a true break with the discredited old regime, that he is a man the game can trust and who seeks power in the interests of football and not his own aggrandisement.
Those multiple crises which are forcing Blatter from office will not have gone away come election time.
The corruption case brought by the United States Department of Justice will probably still be in full swing, more arrests may have been undertaken and some extradition applications – for example, for the likes of Trinidad’s Jack Warner and Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz – may still be dragging on through the former FIFA grandees’ domestic courts.
Platini would also need to convince FIFA’s World Cup sponsors that he will clean up the organisation’s image and seal up the danger of any more toxic fall-out which might stain their corporate image by association.
Within the game, too, Platini would need to build bridges. A majority of African associations were upset by Blatter’s decision to announce his impending resignation only four days after being re-elected for a fifth term in term.
Blatter was the FIFA president who forced through the awarding of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa and earned the accolade of “Africa’s friend” from many associations who mistrust what they consider to be enduring European colonial attitudes.
For this reason it will be crucial for Platini to ensure, in the run-up to the election, that he can secure enough votes within Europe and central/north America to obtain a clear majority among the world federation’s 209 voting associations.
He knows the prospect of a Platini presidency will not be uniformly welcomed, for all his work at UEFA on appealing to the smaller nations, fighting third-party ownership and insisting on greater financial stability.
Most contentious issue is his vote in the FIFA executive committee in 2010 to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and his subsequent support for a midwinter timing switch, ripping into the heart of the European league season.
Unlike some of his colleagues on the FIFA executive committee, however, Platini has not buried his head in the sand and tried to pretend the FIFA crisis was a creation of the western media.
He has acknowledged privately that the “mother house” – as he likes to call FIFA – needs to be rescued from the cul-de-sac into which Blatter has driven it. But turning around and heading back down to the open road is a driving test which will surely demand more than one four-year term of office.
If Platini is in, then he will have to accept that he must be in it for the long haul . . . and it will be a bumpy road.