Saturday profile: Michel Platini is so much more than a man in a sharp suit

Michel Platini, right, with the legendary Pele.
Michel Platini, right, with the legendary Pele.
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Michel Platini may be taking positive steps towards changing world football, but it is something of a shame that he is now seen as just an administrator in the game.

With every year that has passed since his election as UEFA president in 2007, the recognition about what he did on the pitch has faded.

When Platini steps up to address a crowd from a lectern in Zurich or Nyon, it is easy to forget there is a little magician inside that tailor-made UEFA suit.

Ask any youngster from these shores who the best French player of all-time is and their response will be either Thierry Henry or Zinedine Zidane.

But any Frenchman over 40 years old will tell you Platini was better.

Platini, born into a Catholic family of Italian heritage in the tiny French industrial town of Joeuf 60 years ago tomorrow, formed part of a four-man midfield that was the envy of the world in the 1980s.

‘Le Carre Magique’ is the most-celebrated midfield combination in the history of French football. It comprised Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Luis Fernandez.

The quartet provided the creative platform for France to win their first team trophy in sporting history – the 1984 European Championship.

Fernandez supplied the muscle, Giresse was a master at ball retention and Tigana added the dynamism, making surging runs forward from midfield.

Platini was the most important cog, creating openings with defence-splitting passes and chipping in with more than his fair share of goals, too.

“It was magic, because there was an understanding. Each one of us knew what we had to do,” said Fernandez.

Platini’s talents were many in number. He had incredible vision, floated across the turf with the poise of a ballerina and he weighed in with a remarkable number of goals – 41 from 72 appearances for France. Many of those were stunning free-kicks.

Le Carre Magique’s finest hours came in Euro ’84.

Mainly thanks to Platini’s exploits, France had come close to winning the World Cup two years earlier. Only a knockout blow from West Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher on Patrick Battiston prevented Les Bleus from making the final in Spain.

Two years later, Platini was determined to avenge the “injustice” of their penalty defeat and win the European Championship on home soil.

Now captain, Platini led from the front. He netted in the opening game against Denmark and then scored hat-tricks against Belgium and Yugoslavia.

He scored a 119th-minute winner in the semi-finals against Portugal and, when it came to the final, it was no surprise that he put the hosts ahead.

It was not his finest effort – the ball squirmed under red-faced Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada – but it did not matter. Bruno Ballone added another to seal the win and Platini lifted the trophy.

It was not just Platini’s exploits with France that made him a star. He enjoyed immense success in domestic football, too.

He first tasted success at Nancy, where he enjoyed seven productive years.

Unlike Metz, who rejected Platini because they thought he had a heart problem, Nancy had no qualms about signing the then 17-year-old after he scored a hat-trick during a trial for the club’s reserve side against Valenciennes.

Platini impressed the coaches at Nancy and it was not long before the playmaker was thrilling crowds in Ligue 1 after signing his first professional contract.

His first major trophy came in 1978 when he led Nancy to victory in the final of the Coupe de France.

A move to France’s biggest club St Etienne then came along. Despite winning the league in his second year, Platini did not settle at the club and at the end of his contract he was the subject of interest from the biggest clubs in Europe.

He signed for Juventus in 1982, snubbing the advances of Tottenham and Arsenal.

“The calendar was easier. I did not want to play at Christmas, like they do in England,” explained Platini.

England’s loss was Italy’s gain. Platini said his trip to Italy would be an “adventure” as he “knew nothing about Juventus”.

But he soon fell in love with Juve and Juve soon fell in love with him.

Platini won the Ballon d’Or in his first three years in Turin.

He won the Scudetto twice, the UEFA Super Cup, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the biggest of them all – the European Cup – although the final against Liverpool will always be remembered for the tragic deaths of 39 supporters inside Heysel.

After retirement, Platini went on to coach France, and then went into the administrative side of the game. Five big changes introduced by Platini during his time at UEFA are:

Financial fair play: The proposal to force clubs in European football to only spend what they earn seemed revolutionary when it was first put forward, but now football has been so convinced by at least some of the arguments in favour that even the Premier League, Platini’s arch-critic, has adopted some of the same rules.

A 24-team European Championships: The idea to increase the finals from 16 was proposed by the FAs of Scotland and Republic of Ireland, but it was also a reward for those countries who had supported Platini in the UEFA presidential election of 2007.

Euro 2020: Another Platini brainwave which won support from across UEFA’s 54 member associations, Euro 2020 will be played in 13 different cities across Europe, with the semi-finals and final to be staged at Wembley.

Additional assistant referees: Platini has always opposed technology being brought into football, and his alternative was to have extra assistant referees, one next to each goal, to act as extra pairs of eyes and be in radio contract with the man in the middle. It is now used in all Champions League, Europa League and European Championships games.

Champions League for the champions: One of the criticisms of the Champions League was that it abandoned the original concept of the European Cup where only each country’s domestic league champions took part. Platini changed the rules so more national champions qualified for the group stage – at least 18 out of the 32 teams.

The Frenchman is now being tipped to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.

If he is successful, it is important that he pushes through his reform agenda – but it is equally as important that Platini is not remembered as a just another man in a suit for he is much, much more than that.