A long fall from grace

A long fall from grace

Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, once world and European football chiefs, were acquitted on Friday after a two-week trial in June over an alleged fraudulent payment that rocked the sport and prematurely ended their tenure at the top .

AFP Sport looks back on the colorful careers of the two men.

– Money made Blatter’s World Cup spin –

Blatter, FIFA’s supreme power, has never failed to spark debate.

Forced to step down in 2015 days after winning a fifth presidential term, he has spent years since battling a seemingly endless string of accusations while becoming increasingly physically fragile.

In 2016, about to turn 80, he was banned by FIFA from all footballing activity for six years for payment to his former ally Platini. His career was over.

Blatter inherited the FIFA presidency from his scandal-ridden mentor Joao Havelange in 1998 and proved a master at retaining the majority of members as he turned the organization into a slot machine.

Then Swiss police entered a hotel in Zurich in May 2015 and arrested, on American warrant, seven officials attending a FIFA congress and a presidential election.

The rest of the FIFA delegates continued as usual and two days later Blatter was elected to a fifth term. But, seemingly taken aback by the cynical reaction as the scandal continued to unfold, Blatter announced four days later that he would step down.

At that time, he himself was under investigation, the Swiss public prosecutor having opened the criminal proceedings. A line of attack, on the “unfair payment” of two million Swiss francs to Platini, succeeded on Friday.

Blatter joined FIFA in 1975 from a Swiss watchmaker.

At the time, the governing body of world football had barely 10 employees. In 2015, it had 1,400 employees and sat on a cash mountain of around $1.5 billion. He had grossed around $5.7 billion in the four years between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

From these revenues, hundreds of millions of dollars were distributed to national federations and in development grants, although critics have questioned the choice of recipients and oversight of how they spent the money.

Then the 2009 votes to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar came under suspicion, and things started to go downhill.

– Platini had the world at his feet –

Platini lit up the sport with his ballet-like, intelligent play and seemed destined for the top tier after entering football administration.

He captained France to their first major international trophy and led Juventus to the European Cup. He won the Ballon d’Or three years in a row and, uncharacteristically for a midfielder, was three times top scorer in Serie A and the 1984 European Championship.

A charismatic star as sponsors were drawn to the game and player salaries began to skyrocket, he boasted of being “the first in France to earn a lot of money playing football”.

But the money also caused him problems as a player.

After his departure from Saint-Etienne, the club was investigated for running a slush fund to dodge taxes on players’ salaries. In 1990, he was given a four-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 300,000 francs for tax evasion.

Platini quit playing in May 1987 just before he turned 32.

After a stint as France coach, he moved into administration and became co-host of the 1998 World Cup in his home country.

In 2007, he became the first former footballer to be elected UEFA President. World football once again seemed to be at his elegant feet, but then he fell out with his former mentor Blatter, who was in Platini’s desired position.

One of the issues was the choice of host for the 2022 World Cup.

Blatter acknowledged that choosing Qatar over the United States could prove costly.

Platini promised to vote for the United States but changed his mind after a lunch at the Elysee Palace with leaders of the Qatari bid, hosted by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, shortly before the November vote 2010.

When Blatter finally announced his resignation, Platini declared himself a candidate. But Blatter’s fall also dragged the Frenchman down.

pb-as/lp