Michel Platini rages from the sidelines as Infantino stands to keep Fifa crown
At the annual Fifa congress gathering in Paris, Gianni Infantino is set to be elected unchallenged on Wednesday for a second term as president, following the tumultuous events which propelled him to the top spot in 2016. This should have been a crowning glory for Michel Platini, the former king of France as player and coach, president of Uefa from 2007 where Infantino was the general secretary, then candidate to succeed Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency until both presidents were suddenly banned from football in 2015.
Now, in the capital of the country where he became accustomed always to ascending throughout a brilliant career, he is reduced to raging from outside the congress hall. Meeting a group of journalists from six European countries including the Guardian at a hotel affording views of the Eiffel Tower and its arrondissement, he raged against Blatter, against Infantino for stepping over him to become the president and barely talking to him since, against Fifa and against the Swiss establishment, which Platini denounced as having plotted to manipulate his fall.
In this buildup to the women’s World Cup, which kicks off in France on Friday, Platini even lobbed in an accusation that Infantino, in their time together at Uefa, never supported women’s football.
“He was not a fan of women’s football,” said Platini, “he was laughing at women’s football; he is not a believer in it.”
A source close to Infantino immediately rejected that accusation, describing it as “pathetic”.
Platini, having served three and a half years of a four-year ban from all football activities for receiving a 2m Swiss francs (£1.35m) payment from Fifa, on Blatter’s orders, in 2011, is still claiming he has no regrets, does not accept it was irregular or that he did anything improper. It was, he says, all a plot initiated to stop him becoming president, after he fell out with Blatter in 2013 when Blatter reversed one of his promises to step down and said he would stand again two years later.
Platini is taking legal action on four fronts: in September, he mounted a criminal case in Paris for defamation and false accusation, against people he will not name publicly. In Switzerland, he has taken out a criminal case against the former spokesman for the Fifa ethics committee when it pursued the case against Platini, claiming that he defamed him with false allegations about the seriousness of the 2m Swiss francs payment. He has a further case in Switzerland against the spokesman for the attorney general, claiming that his role was also exaggerated – although it was made clear from the beginning that Platini was being interviewed as a “person asked to provide information”, rather than a suspect, as Blatter still officially is, and that the “presumption of innocence” applied to both fallen presidents.
Most importantly, Platini said, he has taken a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, arguing that he was wrongly deprived of his right to work by being banned from the game which had always been his life and profession. He is also arguing that he was deprived of the right to a fair trial, and that the case was retrospective, because Fifa made the payment to him in 2011 but began ethics committee proceedings in 2015, after he had declared his candidacy to be Fifa president.
Platini and Blatter claimed the payment was back-pay owed from an “oral agreement” between the two men when Platini worked as Fifa’s football adviser, a four-year stint which had ended in 2002, nine years before the money was paid. The ethics committee rejected that as “not convincing”, and classed it as an unethical payment. It said at the time that there was insufficient evidence to establish “to the extent required” that the payment was a bribe for Platini, as the Uefa president, to support Blatter in the election four months later in June 2011, which Platini did. Fifa’s appeals committee upheld the decision, then Platini followed agreed football procedures and took his case to the court of arbitration for sport. Three professors hearing the case were also unimpressed with Platini’s justification, pointedly citing the proximity of Blatter’s Fifa election and saying they were “not convinced by the legitimacy of the CHF 2m payment”.
The CAS panel consisted of three distinguished professors of law from Italy, France and Belgium, but Platini included the court in his argument that his fall was a Swiss plot to get him.
He says that he learned of the alleged plot when he gave what would be his final press conference as Uefa president, before the Champions League draw in Monaco in August 2015: “Somebody [whom he did not name] came to me and said: ‘Beware Michel; they are looking for something against you at Fifa.’”
Still, despite the view taken throughout the process including at the Cas, he insists it was legitimate to ask for the money, that Blatter had agreed to pay him 1m Swiss francs a year but said at that time he could only pay him 300,000, which was written into the contract. He had contacted Blatter in 2010, and been asked to send an invoice, which he did.
“Do you think, with all the money I earned throughout my career that I would kill my story for 2m Swiss francs?” he says. “If Blatter had said that they couldn’t pay me for some reason, that would have been fine. About asking for the money – I have no regrets at all.”
He says that Infantino was loyal enough to him when they worked together, but that after Platini’s ban Infantino came to see him and said he would stand for the Fifa presidency to ensure a Uefa candidate won. Platini feels betrayed by that, and the lack of contact since. “I cannot imagine what I did for Gianni Infantino that he had a bad behaviour towards me,” Platini said, taking the opportunity not to hold back. “After what I did for him, he did something against me.
“The last time I talked to him was on the plane in 2016 when I went to Athens to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to the Uefa congress. He came to shake my hand; I said: ‘You shake my hand?’ I was very cold with him and I haven’t spoken to him for three years.”
Of his plans when the ban concludes in October, Platini said he did not know whether there is any way back into football. His former general secretary, who ascended to the top job when both presidents were felled, will be crowned again on Wednesday, at a conference hall on Platini’s home turf.