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FIFA ban completes Platini’s remarkable fall from grace

Fabrice Coffrini / AFP (file photo) | Michel Platini was handed an eight-year ban from all football-related activity by the FIFA Ethics Committee on Monday December 21, 2015

Michel Platini’s spectacular fall from grace came to a dramatic conclusion Monday with the news of his eight-year ban from football, derailing the aspirations of a man whose ascent to FIFA president once looked unstoppable.

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Alongside his one-time mentor, suspended FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, the 60-year-old head of UEFA was handed the eight-year ban from all football-related activity by that most paradoxical of bodies, the FIFA Ethics Committee.

Already both serving 90-day suspensions while the investigation was under way, the pair were banned over a payment of some 2 million Swiss francs (1.85 million euros) from Blatter to Platini in 2011. Both men denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s fall from grace will surprise no one. The FIFA chief’s days were numbered ever since Swiss police raided a Zurich hotel in May and arrested seven members of world football’s governing body, while clouds of suspicion were hovering over Blatter’s head long before that.

Downfall

But Platini’s downfall has been much more spectacular -- both because of the startling pace with which it happened and the esteem in which he was once held.

Blatter had always met his critics head on, brazenly bulldozing his way through all the allegations of corruption with the air of a man who felt he was untouchable.

Platini, though, was different. As a player, he had an uncanny ability to squeeze out of seemingly impossibly tight spaces. Encircled by a horde of menacing defenders, he could still somehow emerge with the ball at his feet.

And so it was with his career in football administration. Even as the stench of corruption began to engulf those who govern of sport, Platini could, until recently, always emerge smelling of roses.

Under his leadership of UEFA since 2007, European football’s governing organisation has seen its coffers swell exponentially, the UEFA Champions League has become a sporting behemoth watched around the globe and the European Championships have been expanded to 24 teams, much to the joy of fans from smaller nations.

And as the upper echelons of FIFA were thrown into turmoil, Platini, rather than being tainted by the scandal, seemed to have manoeuvred himself into the perfect position to profit from it. Just a couple of months ago his election as FIFA president to replace Blatter next year seemed a foregone conclusion.

It is perhaps the lingering aura of Platini the player, a footballing romantic who overcame injury and early-career setbacks to become one of the game’s genuine all-time greats, that allowed him to rely on a limitless pool of goodwill from the football world.

A £16,000 watch given to him as a gift by the Brazilian Football Confederation last year raised a few eyebrows, but nothing more.

The fact that his son, Laurent, was given a job with Qatar Sports Investments, an arm of the Qatari government and owners of Paris Saint-Germain football club, shortly after Platini voted for Qatar as hosts for the 2022 World Cup also failed to cause much of a stir.

Even allegations that Platini backed a World Cup in Qatar at the behest of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who Platini met nine days before the vote and who was chasing major trade deals with the Gulf state at the time, failed to derail his ascent to the top.

‘Godfather’ Blatter proves Platini’s undoing

But eventually, even Platini found himself in a corner that he couldn’t wriggle out of, and it was his relationship with Blatter, the man Platini once referred to as his “godfather”, that finally proved a tight spot too far.

The payment of 2 million Swiss francs to Platini relates to a period between 1998 and 2002 when the Frenchman acted as a special adviser to Blatter, the two men have claimed. There was no written contract for the payment, just an oral agreement, according to them.

The money was eventually paid in 2011, a few weeks before a FIFA presidential election. Shortly after the payment was paid, Platini promised to back Blatter for re-election, it has been alleged.

Since then, the two men have gone from mentor and protégé to bitter rivals, as Platini sought to distance himself from Blatter as the latter became increasingly mired in scandal.

The fate of the two men seems to have inextricably intertwined. As allies they helped each other reach the upper echelons of power. As enemies, even as the floor was falling out from under them, they continued to snipe at each other, trading insults and accusations. There is more than just a suspicion that Blatter had a hand in Platini’s downfall, whether by accident or design.

At the age of 79, Blatter’s long career in football administration is certainly over, though both he and Platini have vowed to appeal the committee’s decision.

Platini’s future is less certain. He may still have the will and years left to recover and become an important figure in the world of football once more. His reputation, however, is likely to remain tarnished for much longer than the eight years of the ban.

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