Michel Platini – Good For Arsenal, Good For Football?
Michel Platini’s election to President of UEFA is not altogether surprising. In the psychedelic world of football politics, Lennart Johansson is perceived to have carried out his role effectively but the overall memory of his reign is going to be that the rich got richer and the poor got nothing. In his place, we have an acolyte of Sepp Blatter whose last ditch intervention may have had the effect of swaying a few cronies and may have made a difference but overall I suspect he had no impact at all at that stage, having done his dirty work in the smoke-filled corridors beforehand.
Platini caught the media’s attention with his proposal to limit the number of clubs in the Champions League to a maximum of three, setting himself apart from his predecessor, whose attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will not have sat well with the voting delegates from the small to medium sized countries. Immediately Platini had put some clear ground between the two and you have to say that it is a politically brilliant idea; at once it is uniting and divisive, a ploy that Blatter will welcome and one that Machievelli would be proud of. Arsene commented today, “He is a very intelligent man and he loves football” . The latter is not in doubt, someone capable of producing such sublime skill on the pitch must be in love with the game of football; what had not necessarily been seen in the wider audience was the former. Any doubts in that respect should be dispelled by his proposed change to the Champions League.
The more you look at it, the more you have to admire the politics behind it. In the first instance, he is saying to the smaller nations that their Champions should be respected for their achievements and not shunted into the UEFA Cup just so that the fourth best team in England, Italy or Spain can add a few more notes to their increasing piles. Where Platini has really put the political boot in though is to open up another argument with the G-14 clubs. His manifesto is another attack at the clubs, looking to weaken their increading stranglehold on football. By attempting to marginalise the big clubs to the small, he is hoping to reign them in should they win either of their battles that they are fighting regarding compensation for releasing players for International duty. Yet there is a sop to the clubs in his proposal; three less difficult opponents in a prestigous tournament mean that firstly, none of the bigger teams have to qualify and secondly, their chances of winning the Champions League improve slightly and that will probably win them over to his side, should they of course object.
By relegating three well-known names to the UEFA Cup, he instantly raises the profile of that competition as the advertisers will be attracted back to a tournament that has frankly been lightweight in the last decade, devoid of difficulty in winning that was present until the mid-90’s when the Cup Winners Cup was unceremoniously dumped. However there is a downside to this strategy. The advertising and broadcasting pots are finite by definition and therefore, so the theory goes, any increase in revenues from those sources for the UEFA Cup will be funded from the Champions League. Whether that is the practical end of things remains to be seen.
So how is Platini’s plan good for Arsenal? In one action he has provided them with a tighter focal point, a reason to eradicate the poor performances that have marked the last season and a half of redevelopment on and off of the pitch. The performances this year indicate that there is every reason to believe that a corner has been turned yet that is only half a dozen or so games in a season so there are no eggs hatching yet. However, tightening the noose on the Champions League places ought to provide the players with motivation on a cold night in Lancashire or Yorkshire should any be needed. They all want to perform at the highest level so must put in the consistency of performance to achieve that. How long it is before the club give their official line on the plans remains to be seen as there are considerable hurdles to be overcome before they come to fruition, if they ever do.
Platini starts with an almost clean slate, many people will no doubt remember the player and allow him some leeway. Personally, I am in that camp and hope that the man who is quoted on UEFA’s website as saying,
“football is a great sport, a treasure, a piece of jewelry. It’s good that there are still romantics, 99.99 per cent of the people are romantics who love the artists, the players and football. There is not only politics, business, violence, hooliganism and corruption in football. There are also very nice things in football, and I belong to those people who defend these things”
is the one who runs the European game for the next few years otherwise we could all be up a famous creek without a paddle.
This photo is for my wife and in-laws; memories of 1984 when his freekick set France on the road to victory against Spain. Let us hope that the memory of Platini as a player enables him to restore some beauty to the Glorious Game as an administrator. A master puppeteer as a player, we trust not the marionette as an administrator with the hand of Blatter pulling the strings.