The bombshell revelation that Michel Platini – and presumably Sepp Blatter too – faces a possible lifetime ban over “that” payment has crystallised the seriousness of what may or may not have actually been agreed between the pair all those years ago.
Until recently, it was generally assumed that the FIFA president and his would-be successor would be thrown out, pending appeal, for roughly between five and seven years if found guilty over the notorious SFr2 million fee that continues to make headline news as both fight for their very survival.
Blatter and Platini, from what we are told, allegedly breached four clauses of the ethics code covering mismanagement, conflict of interest, false accounting and non co-operation with or criticising the ethics committee.
Platini’s lawyers have cried foul, accusing ethics investigators of going way over the top in a concerted attempt to stop their client from fulfilling his ambition of taking over from Blatter next February. But now, far from the UEFA chief being unfairly victimised, it appears the charges against him are so strong that they could lead to sanctions which would potentially plunge him into the footballing wilderness and severely tarnish his reputation as one of the planet’s most cherished players of all time and one of the game’s most passionate administrators.
Lifetime bans are not recommended lightly. They invariably involve the ‘C’ word: corruption. So what is it we don’t yet know? What was it that Blatter and Platini, who vehemently deny any wrongdoing, may have plotted in secret that goes far beyond the routine consultancy work from 1999-2002 which both claim was entirely above board even though it was carried out several years before the sum was paid up?
Is there, after all, genuine evidence that the agreement was linked to Blatter’s 2011 re-election victory? The payment, just to recap, was made in February that year, a few months before Blatter won another term after running unopposed. Platini, remember, ruled out standing against the veteran Swiss saying he had loads more to do at UEFA. But could his resolve have been weakened knowing there was a big windfall to follow?
What if it is now deemed that the payment was not only for services rendered when Platini was Blatter’s special adviser but for helping to secure Blatter’s re-election? The Swiss attorney general was obviously suspicious. Otherwise investigators would surely not have swooped on FIFA headquarters just as Blatter was chairing an executive committee meeting in September.
Having apparently failed to register the agreed amount with FIFA’s accounts department, one aspect of the case reportedly being considered, is how Platini thought, since the contract was oral, he would receive his money several years down the road if Blatter was somehow either no longer in power – or possibly no longer alive.
We won’t have all the answers until FIFA’s German ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert announces his judgement some time before Christmas. Even then we may not be given too much detail. But it is no surprise that tongues are wagging aplenty in the respective hierarchies of FIFA and UEF.
Speaking of UEFA, little has been made so far of the complexities involved in electing a new president if Platini, who is apparently spending much of his current 90-day provisional suspension trying to lower his golf handicap, is banned for even longer. It is looking increasingly likely European football’s governing body will have to hold two congresses in quick succession.
Given that any appeal by Platini would probably not be concluded before mid-January at the earliest, given that FIFA’s own ballot is on February 26 and given that prospective UEFA presidential candidates must be given reasonable time to campaign, there is no way UEFA’s scheduled March congress could be turned into an electoral one.
That means organising another summit shortly afterwards, solely for the purposes of replacing Platini. Mindful of the fact that UEFA will need a president in place to hand over the trophy to the winners of next summer’s Euros, from what I understand late May or early June is looking like the optimum date for an election.
Who would contest it? Surely not the current stand-in, Angel Villar Llona, Spain’s FIFA vice-president who, after years of evading punishment while others around him were hit hard, was finally sanctioned earlier this month for failing to co-operate with the official investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid process and whose anti-reformist stance is well known. Surely not Wolfgang Niersbach now that he has resigned from the German FA. And by all accounts, England’s David Gill isn’t interested in the job. Not yet anyway.
So who then? One familiar name being discussed were Platini’s dreams to be crushed is Michael van Praag. The Dutch FA boss may be 68 but there is strong support for the man who withdrew from last May’s FIFA presidential campaign because he didn’t have sufficient global support to run his own confederation instead.
The talk, according to insiders, is for the highly respected van Praag to do the job for three years (the remainder of Platini’s current term), then pass the mantle to someone younger. At this stage, it’s all ifs and buts but it seems a sound plan on paper.
Andrew Warshaw is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball and was formerly Sports Editor of the European. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org