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Platini free to return to football but Qatar investigation goes on

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Lausanne (AFP)

Former UEFA president Michel Platini is finally free to return to football next week when his four-year ban for ethics violations ends, although he remains linked to a corruption investigation in his home country relating to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The former France captain and national coach went on to become one of the game's most prominent administrators when he was elected president of European football's governing body in 2007.

A triple Ballon d'Or winner, Platini was expected to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in 2016 but fell spectacularly from grace a few months earlier.

He was banned from football for receiving a two-million Swiss franc (1.8 million euros, $2 million) payment from the head of the world game, with Blatter banned for eight years, later reduced to six, for his part.

The payment, made in 2011 when Blatter was seeking re-election as president, was related to work carried out by Platini between 1999 and 2002.

The pair were found guilty of "abusive execution" of their powers and a conflict of interests.

Platini, now 64, has been battling to clear his name ever since, although his ban was reduced to four years from an initial six, leaving him free to work in football again when the suspension expires on Monday.

With the former Saint-Etienne and Juventus midfielder sidelined, he watched on as Gianni Infantino, once his right-hand man at UEFA, became FIFA president in February 2016. The Swiss-Italian was re-elected in June this year.

- 'I will be back' -

Approached by AFP on Friday, Infantino declined to comment on Platini, who made his determination, and bitterness towards FIFA, clear in an interview with Swiss television channel RTS last month.

"I will be back. I don't know where, I don't know how. I can't go out of the game on the back of a ban, even if it's a ban made by idiots," he said.

Speaking to French daily Le Monde about what the future holds, he added: "I have had lots of offers and requests to become a pundit, to do the Euros, the World Cup."

In an interview with French sports daily L'Equipe, he played down talk of a return to the top levels of football administration, although he has been linked with the role of president of the French Football Federation when that position opens up in 2021.

"My wife taught me never to go back, to not experience the same love affair twice. So yes, that closes doors for me, notably those at UEFA," he said.

"My suspension ends in October, while the last elections for the FIFA presidency took place in May and the next ones will be in four years," he added. "They arranged that well in Zurich."

One source close to UEFA said the organisation's current president, Aleksander Ceferin, "could support Platini" as a candidate for the FIFA presidency in 2023 as the Slovenian "cannot stand" Infantino.

By then, the Qatar World Cup will have come and gone, but Platini has been dogged by his connections to the controversial awarding of that tournament.

In June this year he was held and questioned by French anti-corruption police investigating the 2010 vote to award the tournament to the Gulf state.

According to France Football magazine, a "secret meeting" took place in November 2010 at the Elysee Palace in Paris between former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Qatar's then-Prince (now Emir) Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and Platini, who was then both UEFA president and FIFA vice-president.

Just over a week later, FIFA voted to award Qatar the 2022 tournament.

Blatter, then FIFA president, claimed Qatar won hosting rights as a result of a deal with France. Platini dismissed Blatter's allegations as a "tissue of lies".

"Because I go to eat at the President's home to tell him who I am going to vote for as hosts of the 2022 World Cup, I get arrested? There is a whole load of things that have happened to me in the last four years that are intolerable, unbearable," he told L'Equipe.

"If I had really been involved in corruption, the Swiss and the Americans would have found something long ago."

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