Evening Standard

UEFA president on his radical plan for the 2022 tournament in Qatar which could change the calendar for Euro football

Seat at the top table: Michel Platini at Euro 2012. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Michel Platini once turned down the chance to play in England because there is no winter break on these shores.

Tottenham fans will wince at the revelation that the much decorated midfielder was minded to move to the club in 1982 until he discovered the season here did not stop for Christmas.

“Yes, I thought of coming to play at Tottenham but you do not have a winter break,” he confirms, explaining the reason for his move from St Etienne to Juventus rather than White Hart Lane.

Thirty years later and the game’s rulers in this country are no nearer to resolving the issue, which raises its head when games are lost due to freezing temperatures rather than simply to accommodate Christmas.

However, the UEFA president is now embarking on a campaign which, if successful, will see the English game forced to take a month-long winter break to accommodate the 2022 World Cup.

He is determined to bring about the biggest change in world football by staging the tournament during a European winter for the first time.

“I hope it will be held in winter,” he says. “We have to go to Qatar when it is good for everybody to participate. What is better for the fans?”

Then, expressing sentiments that will not endear him to organisers of the 2010 World Cup, Platini adds: “Did you see in South Africa: it was freezing and nobody could go anywhere to a fan club or anything. You had to stay in the hotel.”

And, for all the protests a winter World Cup will provoke, Platini is confident the game will work out a solution.

“In 10 years we can manage to decide how we can postpone the season for one month,” he says. “January is difficult for the World Cup because you have the Winter Olympic Games. If we stop [the European season] from November 2 to December 20, it means, instead of finishing in May, we stop in June. It is not a big problem. It is for the good of the World Cup, the most important competition in the world.”

Platini is determined to make his influence tell in the battle to turn the 2022 World Cup into a winter event. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

The Frenchman remains convinced it was right to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia, not England, and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

In the wake of the FIFA corruption scandal, there has been talk that the elections might be re-run but Platini says, defiantly: “To revoke World Cup decisions will be difficult. And, if there is another vote, I will vote the same way: for Russia and Qatar.

“I voted for Qatar because it was time to go to a country in that part of the world. They bid five times.”

And to the accusation that he voted on the instructions of the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, he says: “No, no, no.

“I tell you one thing immediately. One day I was invited to dinner by Sarkozy where there was the Prime Minister of Qatar. Mr Sarkozy never asked me during the dinner to vote for Qatar. They invited me to the dinner but they know I will be independent, that I will vote for who I want.”

However, Platini does reveal that the Emir of Qatar had promised to hold the World Cup in winter before going back on his word. “Before the vote, I told him, ‘I’ll vote for Qatar but I want the World Cup in winter’. He wanted my vote and said, ‘Of course, yes.’ Now he has changed.”

Platini’s plans will cause consternation among football’s rulers here and, though he may never win over sections of the British media who demonise him as an enemy of the Premier League, he insists he values English football.

Platini points with pride to his decision to stage the Champions League Final at Wembley next May. A mere two years after the previous Wembley final (Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1) this is his gesture to the English game as the Football Association celebrate their 150th birthday.

He is also quick to defend the special privileges Britain has in world football, saying: “Many people are against the British having four votes [on the International Football Association Board who decide the rules of the game]. The four votes for the British is okay.

“I am a traditionalist. They say Wales and Northern Ireland are not important. I do not agree with that.”

As if to reinforce his true feelings for the game here, in the week Paris Saint-Germain took their first steps towards European domination, the Frenchman was in London: Wednesday at Stamford Bridge, Thursday at White Hart Lane.

PSG may be the richest club in the world, thanks to their Qatari owners, but Platini reveals: “France is different. It does not have the philosophy of England. Do you think people in Paris care who owns PSG? Many people don’t even know there is a club in Paris.”

While Platini tries to engineer a fundamental change to football’s world calendar, he is not enamoured with another revolution about to take the game into the 21st century.

Angry at the way FIFA president Sepp Blatter casts FIFA’s four IFAB votes without consulting his executive, one of whom is Platini, the Frenchman’s fury increased because of the decision taken at the last IFAB meeting to bring in goal-line technology.

For Platini, technology in football means letting the genie out of the bottle and marginalising the referee.

“So what will we have for offside decisions? A guy pushing the button on a television replay telling the referee? And, if is he from Arsenal and the goal is by Tottenham, what does he do?”

He smiles as he speaks, perhaps realising the absurdity of his analogy, but he is deadly serious when he puts forward his solution for disputed goals — instead of cameras in goalmouths, use additional assistant referees behind the goals. “My idea is to help referees by putting up more referees,” he says.

The two additional referees did not help matters at White Hart Lane last Thursday as Spurs were denied legitimate goals by Clint Dempsey (above, right) and Steven Caulker in front of the watching president. Television replays showed Dempsey was not offside and Caulker had not fouled Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri.

It would have helped to hear what the additional assistant referees were saying to the man with the whistle about the incidents. UEFA have fascinating recordings from Euro 2012 of conversations between the officials but Platini has no plans to record such conversations for all European club matches.

Referee advisor Pierluigi Collina has convinced him that broadcasting such conversations, far from informing the crowd, would inflame them.

To make matters worse, IFAB forbid the goal-line officials from making any gestures. Platini is hoping to persuade the international body to allow them to make token gesture so they do not look like tailors’ dummies.

Can additional referees not co-exist with technology, then? “No, how can we put goal-line technology in every match?” he argues. “We will have to spend a lot of money. National associations will not do that.”

The Premier League have gone for goal-line technology but Platini shrugs and says: “Fine, let England do it as a trial and see if it works.”

Platini, who proudly boasts that he will “always have the game vision of a No10”, truly believes that goal-line technology will disrupt the flow of the game. However, the example he gives suggests he needs a better stopwatch.

“In the World Cup, the goal of England [by Frank Lampard against Germany] was a clear goal. In such situations, normally there is a big chance for a counter-attack. Suppose the Germans get the ball as it bounces out and they score. Then what do you do? You cancel the German goal and come back to the England goal that was not given.”

When I say that technology would have shown that England had scored before the quickest German counter-attack, Platini insists: “You will never convince me on technology and I will not change at the age of 57. Technology assisting referee: I say, no.”

Controversy on the pitch last Thursday was followed by a new storm off it when it emerged that Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon had been subjected to racist chants by some Lazio supporters.

Platini, sitting next to chairman Daniel Levy in the front row of the directors’ box, heard nothing but the incident was not missed by the UEFA delegate, Adonis Procopiou, and many in this country will judge the body on the punishment they impose on Lazio. In the past, UEFA’s deeds have not matched their words, leading to scepticism but, while Platini may always struggle to win over the British, there can be little doubt that, post Euro 2012, a new Platini has emerged. The Euros gave him a tremendous feel-good moment.

“We suffered for many years asking ourselves the question whether we should go to Poland and Ukraine,” he confesses. “Finally we went there, found a lot of joy, great football, great atmosphere and great pride from the people. It was something wonderful. Beyond our expectations.”

Now, so at ease, he even jokes about the English and their language. “In the world, everyone speaks English and everybody understands. But it is foreign English. When you speak with the English, you do not understand because it is not the same English as the international English. I speak with the Italians, Arabs and Russians and I understand. I speak with Geoff Thompson [former FA chairman and UEFA executive member] it is burr, burr, burr and I do not understand,” he says, laughing.

Whatever version of English he employs, Platini’s next mission is to make himself understood at the FA.


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