KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- Sepp Blatter risked prison if he stood again as FIFA president back in May . . . he has claimed his brother was warned by Michel Platini ahead of the election at the world football federation’s congress.
The astonishing tale has been recounted by Blatter in an interview with the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant. The interview has illustrated the even-widening gap between the 79-year-old Swiss and the man he once considered his FIFA ‘dauphin.’ Simultaneously concerns were raised about an alleged ‘smear campaign’ being run from Zurich by Blatter backers against Platini.
Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term in office in May 29 then announced an intention to stand down four days later. He has said he will leave office when a successor is elected in an extraordinary congress next February 26.
Initial speculation that Platini would be Blatter’s preference has been undermined by a series of leaks against the French president of European federation UEFA culminating in Blatter’s latest devastating salvo.
The interview, particularly being published in the Benelux countries, will spark extra speculation about the identity of whichever trusted ‘lieutenant’ Blatter may eventually prefer to see emerge as his favoured successor.
Sources close to Platini vehemently denied the exchange as a “spurious story [which] is the latest in a series of attempts from Zurich to distract the world from the real problems that FIFA faces.” The Frenchman has talked openly of how he tried to persuade Blatter, on the eve of congress, not to stand but in nothing like the terms claimed by the FIFA president.
Blatter’s comments were expressed during a long interview which rambled over his pride in FIFA, his lack of a ‘real’ vacation since 1990, the judicial ‘tsunami’ on the eve of FIFA congress and his increasingly distant personal relationship with Platini – whom Blatter had brought into FIFA as his ‘presidential counsellor’ back in 1998.
The ‘prison risk’ issue was prompted by a question asking if reports of such a conversation were true.
Blatter reportedly responded: “Shortly after lunch at the congress I met [my brother Peter]. He had been crying. I asked him what was going on? I said@ ‘Do not be sad, I’m going to win. I do not know by how many votes but I will win this election. I can not lose to the prince [Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein].’
“My brother did not speak. But, after the election, I heard what had happened. Platini was sitting at lunch at the same table as my brother. He said: ‘Tell Sepp that he must withdraw before the election or he goes to jail.”
Blatter traced the schism with Platini as having been opened within a year of the latter being elected president of UEFA in 2007.
He said: “In 2007, when Michel Platini was elected UEFA president, I was his best friend. But already by 2008 it was not so.
“At the opening of the European Championships in 2008 in Switzerland, I spoke at the aperitif with the then Swiss President who was an acquaintance of mine from the canton of Valais.
“You know, my relationship with [Michel Platini] at one time was like the relationship between a father and son. He worked for four years with me at FIFA after the 1998 World Cup in France. We have worked together for him to be elected to the executive boards of UEFA and FIFA.
“In 2007 he also became president of UEFA. With my direct support.”
A year later, for Blatter, everything had changed. An “anti-FIFA virus” existed in UEFA’s headquarters at Nyon, he said.
Platini is the only football heavyweight to have declared himself a candidate for the FIFA presidency though Chung Mong-joon, South Korean former Asian vice-president of the world body, is expected to confirm his own intention on Monday in Paris. Prince Ali is still considering his position.
Most of Africa is generally considered to be opposed to Platini, holding him largely responsible for what many federations consider to have been a European coup against Blatter.
‘Smear campaign’ claim
Earlier this week Michael Hershman, a member of the original FIFA reform task force in 2011, said that Platini would be the wrong choice as successor. Hershman wrote, in a blog, that Platini’s role as a long-time FIFA insider meant he was incapable of seeing “credibility and respect return to the organisation.”
Germany’s Welt am Sonntag has reported on the smear allegations, claiming that a document entitled “Platini – skeleton in the closet”, had been distributed among selected media out of FIFA headquarters.
The document painted an unflattering picture of the former France captain, questioning his suitability for the role of FIFA president based on criticism including his support for Qatar’s controversial hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Welt am Sonntag said the document had been written by Thomas Renggli, a former editor of FIFA’s online weekly magazine.
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino has written to his FIFA counter-part Jerome Valcke to ask for an investigation of the dossier’s creation and distribution.
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