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Promises, promises, Mr. Platini
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-02-01 09:08:47
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So that’s it. Michel Platini is the new boss of European football sending the Swedish Lennard Johansson into history and, with 17 years behind him as president, Mr. Johansson’s history book is a very thick one.

The 51-year-old Frenchman was elected by Europe’s 52 national football associations in the German city of Dusseldorf after receiving 23 votes with two votes invalid. This election race was not so smooth and easy for the new boss, and the well established former boss of UEFA was not an easy rival at all. Despite both their commitment to the sport, the whole race reminded me a lot of politics at its worst, with Johansson asking a return on the favors he had done over the last 17 years as the President of UEFA, plus having the support of another old football star, Franz Beckenbauer.

The new president, from his side, had the president of FIFA Joseph S. Blatter and his promises for a totally different leadership for the European football on his side. Michel Platini had two wild cards that obviously worked for him through these elections. First was his past as a star football player, internationally admired and recognized and the second was the support of the weaker European football associations. Mr. Johansson, from his side, has never played football and he had the support of the big European football powers like England and Germany.

But did the football player's past count? In my opinion, no, because the job is pure administrative and it has to do with colossal marketing than anything else. So the footballing past worked more as a personal PR and an excuse for the vote. Regarding the second part, the support of the ‘small’ football association has to do with…money. Actually, everything has to do with money and associations like the English, the German or the French take the biggest part of these monies. The smaller associations demanded a different share and of course to increase their part, which is something Platini has promised to sort out.

However, I think that demands a second look. FIFA handles one of the most popular shows in the world and one of the most profitable: the Champions League, a real goldmine. Television rights, advertisement and PR everything is there and it can compete only with the Formula 1 Championship. It doesn’t matter what I think about David Beckham, everybody all around the world knows his name and people were queuing in Japan to see him play with both the national team and with Manchester United when he played with them.

There are kids in Africa who wear jerseys with the name Zidane and kids in Greece that think Michael Owen is the god of football. When I was a kid myself, I knew nearly every single player in England, Germany and Holland. As sad as it sounds, I didn’t know the players of the premier division in my own country. At the same time, how many Japanese kids know African players despite their superb talent or South African kids have a jersey of a Korean player. A doubt if there are many.

So the question now comes down to why I should watch a game with unfamiliar players when I can watch a game with Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Milan, and Ajax – the names are random from teams I remember this minute. I’m not a fan of motor-sports myself - since I find them boring - but I found myself watching Formula1 just to see the overrated star Michael Schumacher; just the same applies with football. The majority of the people who watch the Champions League are not real football fans but they occasionally watch a game and they prefer to watch a game with stars in the expectation of excitement.

So under what circumstances is Mr. Platini going to rearrange the funding of the associations? I think the only thing Mr. Platini can help to change is the game itself, but again if he has the will to do so. The last few years the game has lost and there are many responsible to that from the ones who participate in the game and especially the referees.

Perhaps he has the experience to see what’s going on and change it. He promised to do something about the drugs but that’s no difference with what the former president kept promising for the last eight years. Actually, we have heard the same promises from all kinds of sport associations, including the International Olympic Committee. What has changed? Nothing! The pharmaceutical companies discover new drugs all the time and every time any associations add a drug to their long list the industry comes out with a new one.

So, good luck Mr. Platini, but I don’t think you are going to change much since you didn't base your election on realistic promises.

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