London Evening Standard
Lennart Johansson knows how difficult it is to remove Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini from world football. In 1998 Johansson, then UEFA president, stood against Sepp Blatter for the top job at FIFA and lost. Then, in 2007, Johansson was dethroned by Platini after 17 years at the head of UEFA.
However, Blatter’s reign as FIFA president is finally nearing its end as he is being forced to step down in the wake of the scandal that has engulfed the game’s governing body.
The race to succeed him took a twist today when one of the candidates, Chung Mong-joon, claimed FIFA had charged him for allegedly breaking their ethics code as a ploy to prevent him from running for the presidency.
Platini is also in the running to replace Blatter at next February’s election but Johansson says: “Platini’s still part of the same world. That’s my impression. I doubt he will be able to reform FIFA.”
That is the one thing the organisation desperately needs. In May, 14 people — including nine current and former FIFA executives — were indicted as part of an FBI probe while Blatter, who denies any wrongdoing, is now the subject of criminal proceedings in Switzerland.
Johansson says: “It’s nothing but a tragedy that the biggest sport in the world has such people at the top.”
As UEFA president, Johansson served on the FIFA executive for nearly two decades and admits he heard rumours of corruption relating to marketing deals between FIFA and former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.
The Trinidadian denies charges of corruption and is fighting extradition to the US but last week he was given a life ban from football by FIFA, who accused him of being “a key player in schemes involving undisclosed and illegal payments, as well as other money-making schemes”.
Johansson says: “At the time it was rumours and there was no proof. You must have real proof. I could do nothing. I waited all the time for the proof.”
It is not the only issue that still troubles Johansson, who casts his mind back to the 1998 FIFA election in France. The Swede, promising a more transparent regime, was the odds-on favourite and thought he had a winning coalition with the support of UEFA and the African federation.
But, the night before the elections, he claims that rumours swept Paris that men with brown envelopes had been seen passing money in hotels where delegates were staying.
“I heard from people like Gerhard Aigner [then UEFA general secretary] and others who I could believe in that this was happening,” he says. “I’m of the opinion that this was the truth. So when I went into the election on that day I already felt I could not win.”
Blatter was ahead after the first ballot but failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to win, which meant the election should have gone to another vote.
But Johansson says: “I did not contest the second round because I thought they would look at me as a bad loser. I did not say anything because I couldn’t prove it.”
In the press conference after the election I asked Blatter: “Was your campaign corrupt. Is FIFA not clean?”
Addressing a press conference four years ago, Blatter seemingly accepted there had been vote buying at the election but strongly denied he was involved.
Johansson also feels aggrieved over the role, he claims, Blatter had in the way he lost the presidency of UEFA. Johansson reveals: “By 2007, I’d had enough but Blatter encouraged me to stand against Platini. He told me, ‘you must stay as president for a couple more years and try and find another successor’. But, behind the scenes, he encouraged Platini to stand against me. Yes, he played a double game.”
Platini won and, says Johansson: “Then Platini was firmly in Blatter’s camp. Platini was admiring Blatter for what he did and he thought this was the smart way to do it. Then something happened between them. I don’t know when Platini turned himself from a supporter to an enemy to Blatter.”
However, despite the fact that Platini opposed Blatter’s re-election in May, promoting Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, Johansson is not convinced that the pair have actually fallen out.
“I really think they are playing a game,” he says. “I think Blatter is actually promoting Platini.”