Andrew Warshaw: Was the pretender to the throne only ever pretending?

Two months ago, when UEFA president Michel Platini was still weighing up whether to run for the top job in world football, it became abundantly clear in the build-up to the FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo that Europe was massively outnumbered in its opposition to a fifth term for Sepp Blatter.

So why did Platini not declare there and then that it was too risky to take on the wily old Swiss? It’s a fair question and one Platini was asked about when he finally announced, at UEFA’s annual season-launching bash on the Cote d’Azur, that he intended to stay put and would bide his time until Blatter was finally out of the way.

The reason he gave is that he always wanted to wait until the World Cup was over before showing his hand, that it would have been bad for the tournament’s image if all the media focus was on football politics instead of football on the field.

By choosing his own stage rather than being stampeded into speaking out of turn on someone else’s patch, Platini was able to put the best possible face on his retreat from the fray and, at the same time, to go on the offensive against his one-time mentor.

As well as all but accusing Blatter of being a populist spin merchant, he was highly critical of the way the Fifa president had managed to reach such a position of power, claiming the person who runs the world’s most popular sport should be – like himself – a former player or coach rather than a career administrator.

“Mr Blatter comes from the administration side of things,” declared Platini. “I don’t think we should any longer tolerate such a person being at the helm.”

Ouch. Talk about widening the divide between the pair of them.

So what happens next? Well for Platini, he has plenty on his plate. Financial Fair Play is just up and running, the new Nations League is being launched, there is the unprecedented 13-city format for Euro 2020, a new national team centralised TV package for sale and, of course, the small matter of Euro 2016 in his home country. Going for the FIFA presidency would have meant turning his back on all of that.

For Blatter, it would appear the coast is clear for another solo run at the job he once promised he would leave next May, but which he is determined to keep as his own – unless someone else suddenly makes a concerted effort to unseat him.

At this point, the options seem pretty limited. Why would UEFA put up a token candidate if the confederation’s most powerful official doesn’t fancy the job himself? Answers on a postcard. Which leaves the other confederations and, quite frankly, there are no obvious candidates from any of them. Anyway, none of the five, it seems, shares Europe’s view that Blatter has reneged on a deal not to continue beyond next year. Or if they do, they are not saying so, perhaps afraid they may lose crucial financial grants if they so much as ‘boo’.

Yet for the sake of democracy, it would be far healthier if there is a contender somewhere out there for Blatter’s throne, Jerome Champagne’s campaign notwithstanding. To run unopposed once may be acceptable. To do so twice smacks of omnipotence. Which, coincentally, was exactly the word Platini used when urging FIFA’s top brass to show more courage when sitting round Blatter’s table.

UEFA’s dilemma now is how to oppose Blatter effectively. Michael van Praag, the president of the Dutch FA who led that infamous rebellion against Blatter in Sao Paulo when every other confederation supported him to the hilt, recently emerged as a possible candidate. So did Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who runs the European Club Association. Neither seems a genuine proposition.

Indeed, van Praag made it clear in Monaco this week that he wouldn’t personally be stepping up to the plate, telling the BBC that it was “never my intention” to run but also expressing his disappointment that no-one else was prepared to give it a go either, resigning himself to the fact that UEFA would in all likelihood have to rely on someone – anyone – from a different confederation to take on Blatter. Which, as I say, is looking distinctly unlikely.

And which could well mean that, when Blatter proudly takes the podium for re-election in Zurich next May (even though he hasn’t officially declared, he seems almost certain to), a whole heap of Europeans will end up simply abstaining. What an unsavoury and ridiculous scenario that would be.

Platini insists the decision he made this time was not based on default but because he still has so much to achieve in his current role. But if Blatter had stuck to his original plan and called it a day next year, would his one-time ally really, truly, feel as passionate about sticking with Europe as he says he does rather than bite the bullet until 2019 when he could theoretically take over at FIFA?

Only Platini can answer that….

Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact Andrew at moc.l1696172086labto1696172086ofdlr1696172086owdis1696172086ni@wa1696172086hsraw1696172086.werd1696172086na1696172086