This is a big season for Michel Platini. As the architect of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, all eyes will be on him when the first penalties are handed out next spring.

Clubs who have lost more than €45m (£38m) over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons face punishment, ranging from a warning to a ban from European competition.

UEFA’s president accepts that with  clubs having lawyers and “everybody defending his own position” the issue could “eventually wind up in courts”.

But will teams who overspend really be hit with the ultimate penalty?

Platini plays the role of politician perfectly as he replies: “It is a work in progress. Sanctions will be decided upon. Do not think we are going to take five to 10 clubs out of the European competition. Definitely that would be the very, very last straw. If we have repeat offenders okay, yes, they will have to be punished severely — possibly. We are not out to kill the clubs. We want to help the clubs to grow. We are trying to regulate football.”

But how can Platini claim UEFA are the regulator of football when they have done nothing to control the spending of a club little more than a mile from where we are talking? There, Monaco have lavished nearly £200million on players this summer financed by Russian sugar daddy Dmitry Rybolovlev.

“Monaco are not about Financial Fair Play,” says Platini, who was in the principality to preside over the glittering launch of yet another European club season. “Monaco are not participating in the European competitions. We are interested in the clubs participating in the European competitions.”

So does this not suggest that UEFA’s powers are very limited? “That is a problem,” concedes Platini. “We can take care of the clubs taking part in our competitions but I have nothing to do with the English or French championships or Italy. We have no influence on the national competitions. The structures of UEFA do not allow for that. The presidents of the national associations want to run their own competitions. The national associations are the bosses of UEFA.”

Platini, did, though demonstrate that his crusade to make clubs live within their means was beginning to show results: losses for Europe’s 725 top-flight clubs are down by 36 per cent, according to the latest figures. And, for the first time since 2008, income has risen faster than wages. It was enough for Platini’s general secretary, Gianni Infantino, to declare proudly there is now “light at the end of the tunnel”.

With figures like that, last week in Monaco would have been the ideal time to declare his candidacy for the top job in football.

As a player, Platini never had any problems deciding what to do with the ball at his feet. But now, as a football politician, faced with the biggest decision of his career, he cannot make up his mind. Or at least that is what he would like us to think.

Sepp Blatter is set to step down as FIFA president in 2015 and when I ask Platini to shed some light on whether he wants that job, he says: “I am thinking if I go or not go [for the FIFA presidency]. Give me time to think. I have not had time because I am a football player not a journalist who thinks very quickly.”

But the way Platini laughs as he says this indicates he does not believe his footballer’s brain works slower than that of a journalist. And it soon becomes clear how much the former midfielder has learned about football politics in his seven years in charge of UEFA. The first lesson is not to get on the wrong side of Europe’s biggest clubs.

So, he carefully distances himself from Arsene Wenger’s criticism of Real Madrid that they were “very generous” paying Tottenham £86m for Gareth Bale. “I don’t know if he is worth €100million,” says Platini. “It is very subjective. I do not want to enter into that because it is a discussion by clubs. It is life.”

In any case, argues Platini, in Real Madrid’s life it is not hard to find the money to pay for Bale and had they spent it on three players “this question would not be asked”.

Do not think we will take five to 10 clubs out of European competition. That would be the very, very last straw

Platini, the politician, does trip up when the discussion turns to transfers in general. He begins by sounding like a revolutionary saying: “I think transfers are a robbery.” But within minutes he is backtracking. “Sometimes Michel Platini is speaking not always as the president. Okay, robbery may be too tough a word. You can strike out that word.” And even when he insists, “there is something unhealthy in all this,” it turns out his idea of football’s sickness is not that transfer fees are too high.

What Platini means by lack of transfer morality is that the work he put in during the 1970s to break the shackles of his fellow players has been undone. The 58-year-old says: “You see I belong to the generation that went on strike so that players could leave at the end of the contract wherever they wanted to go. Every time I had finished a contract, I was free to go where ever I went. [Today] players are not free. Nobody is any longer respecting contracts. Now transfers are a possibility for a lot of people to make a lot of money. On top of every football player there is a whole pile of people just trying to make money, to get commissions. That hurts me.

“Today players do not belong to clubs. They belong to financial holdings, to companies, or to one person. We are going back 50 years.”

Such third-party ownership, banned in England and France, is common in the rest of the world. FIFPro, the international players’ union, have been discussing some very radical ideas for changing the third-party system. Platini admits: “I am not as liberal as FIFPro [but] it is necessary to really think over this whole system, try to find something more healthy.”

Then, the politician in him emerges and he quickly dumps the whole problem into FIFA’s lap saying: “That is a FIFA matter. I do not know what FIFA want to do. I have said to them that is something that is not good and you have to think about it.”

Platini would have to address that issue should he succeed Blatter. Before going public about his FIFA presidential intentions, Platini will sound out Europe’s national associations during their meeting in Dubrovnik later this month.

The meeting will also discuss the idea of moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup to winter following Blatter’s announcement that the FIFA executive will consider it.

But, as former Football Association chairman David Bernstein said, surely this makes the initial vote unfair since Qatar won on the basis it would stage a summer finals?

Platini cannot understand why this is an issue. “I did not know the rules. Do you think there are rules for everybody? Nobody cares about the rules. I vote for what I want.”

Indeed for Platini the fact he disclosed he voted for Qatar, the only executive member to do so, puts him on a higher moral plane as he says: “I was always transparent.” And, should FIFA be forced to have another vote, then Platini has no doubts about the outcome. I do not know why people will change their vote.”

An answer that shows how much Platini, the player, is now the full-blown football politician.


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