By the time the eight-year bans meted out to Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini expire, the Swiss veteran, who has ruled Fifa for the best part of a generation, will be 87 and his would-be successor 69.
Unless the friends-turned-foes-turned friends again somehow manage to win their respective appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the coming weeks, the legacy left behind by the two most powerful officials in world football, just like that of so many other banned administrators, will be one of ignominy and suspicion. Chances are, their respective organisations will survive and move on but the challenge facing both organisations cannot be under-estimated.
For scandal-battered Fifa, whoever takes over from Blatter on election day on 26 February – and it won’t be Platini if the Uefa president’s ban sticks – the task of restoring pride, transparency and credibility will be unenviable. Five candidates are in the running, with Asian football chief Sheikh Salmanpictured, now installed as favourite. None has so far given the impression he can bring something fresh to the table but one of them will ultimately be charged with implementing the comprehensive reform package recently approved including the introduction of term limits and the scrapping of the all-powerful executive committee.
No longer, under the reform proposals, will the president be able to dictate to his subordinates, taking on more of a figurehead role than was the case under Blatter’s autocratic reign. But, given Fifa’s dysfunctional state, it will take years rather than months to bring about proper, meaningful change.
Uefa’s problems are more short-term but just as pressing. While yesterday’s ruling effectively brought the curtain down on Blatter’s often tempestuous 18 years at the top – ironically imposed by the very ethics committee he helped set up to clamp down on malpractice – the future is, in a way, bleaker and more tragic for Platini.
Blatter, under unbearable pressure in the wake of the twin US and Swiss corruption probes, was stepping down anyway in a few weeks’ time. Conversely, Platini’s star was on the rise, only to come crashing down to earth.
If either man is to win his appeal, it will have to happen soon, since Fifa election rules state all candidates have to be finalised one month beforehand. Having already refused to lift Platini’s 90-day suspension, it would take a brave man to predict that the CAS will be more lenient given the ethics committee’s hard-hitting ruling which cited conflict of interest and other key breaches of its code. Platini will be relieved that investigators failed to make the more serious allegation of corruption stick. That would almost certainly have led to a far longer ban but even eight years puts Uefa in an awkward position. The reality is that there is now a massive void at the helm of European football’s governing body. Uefa’s top brass are desperate to have a president in place by the time next summer’s Euros get under way. Despite the diplomatic language used in defence of their visionary leader yesterday, the fact is they are already having to prepare for life without him.
Uefa have already scrapped their March Congress in Budapest and rescheduled it for 3 May, which now seems certain to become an electoral summit after giving potential candidates to succeed Platini the necessary time to campaign should the Frenchman fail to win any appeal. With Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino, Platini’s number two, catapulted into the Fifa election race, what happens at European level is suddenly of paramount importance.
Like Blatter, Platini is not surplus to requirements quite yet. Like Blatter, he has pledged to fight to the end to clear his name. And like Blatter, he has always protested innocence.
But to suggest, as he has, that the ethics committee handed down a verdict “which is just a pathetic camouflage of a will to eliminate me from football” is misguided. Ethics officials don’t care one way or the other about who is running for Fifa president. Platini may have been naive in the extreme over the already infamous £1.3m payment but he has been treated the same way as others who have similarly transgressed.
Having said that, should he fail with his appeals, the 60-year-old’s fate will represent one of the greatest personal tragedies in football, considering that Platini had been one of the greatest players of his era. Tellingly, neither he nor Blatter has convincingly explained how or why their so-called verbal “gentlemen’s agreement” was not communicated to the relevant Fifa bodies, as it should have been.
That, sadly, looks set to be how this unsavoury affair will always be remembered, casting permanent suspicion on the outgoing Fifa president and the man who wanted so much to be king.