PARIS â€" Eternally nostalgic of its past grandeur, France is already dreaming about the prospect out loud: Platini!
As an attacking midfielder, he led France to the 1984 European Championship and Italian squad Juventus to club dominance, before turning manager and overseeing the 1998 World Cup organization in France and eventually taking over as head of European soccer body UEFA. But now Michel Platini could be standing before an even greater destiny: becoming king of the world (of soccer) and savior of a FIFA that has been hit by corruption scandals that threaten its very standing.
Since the surprise resignation of FIFA chief Sepp Blatter (who will remain in office until his successor is elected), Platini has so far said nothing about his intentions. Heâ€™s "putting things into perspective" at his home in Nyon, by Lake Geneva, says one source close to the 59-year-old.
Platini's close friends, however, are not leaving it to anyone else to sing his praises. French Football Federation President Noël Le Graët repeated that "Michel" has always been the "best candidate." Férédric Thiriez, president of the Professional Football League, described him as the "ideal candidate." The Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, Thierry Braillard, as an "outstanding leader who has all the qualities for the FIFA presidency." Even the British bookmakers, putting all their Francophobia aside, have joined the growing consensus, putting him at 6:5 odds to win the vote at FIFA's still-to-be-scheduled extraordinary congress to elect a new head.
So here we are: Platini has a wide-open goal in front of him. First, because he has double legitimacy â€" he's both a soccer legend and head of the world's most powerful regional confederation, the UEFA. The combination of these two qualities is quite rare. France's David Ginola, Portugal's Luis Figo or Brazil's Arthur Antunes "Zico" Coimbra, former or future candidates, all excelled on the field but have no top management experience.
Indian-American Sunil Gulati (head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, who is said to be interested in the position) and French Jérôme Champagne have the opposite problem: They are both highly trained as managers, but retired their athletic ambition around the fourth grade. As for Prince Ali, Sepp Blatter's one and only rival during the last election, he's considered not much more than just the half-brother of the King of Jordan.
Platini has another great quality for the position. Given the standards of global soccer, his image is almost immaculate. Sure, the English-speaking media (Lâ€™Obs too, let's face it) has dug up some unpleasant truths: that lunch with Emir Al Thani and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy a few days before from the vote awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar; a rather unusual organization of the 2012 European Championship in Ukraine; and the recruitment of his son Laurent by a company under Qatari control. Still, it never went further than that. The commander's image has remained stainless, and no one, not even the FBI investigators, found any dirt on his doings as UEFA boss â€" and, in this capacity, vice president of FIFA's executive committee.
Curiously, Platiniâ€™s friends more or less say the same as Sepp Blatterâ€™s close friends and family have said of the now outgoing FIFA boss: He's not a poet, granted, but not a money man either.
FIFA vs. UEFA
Thus the question now is not whether Platini is capable of taking over as head of global soccer â€" but whether he wants to. And whether the 209 federations that will vote for the future head of FIFA are ready to give him free rein.
About his motivation, it has often been written that his fear of losing against the "Machiavellian" Blatter was the only thing that made him renounce his candidacy during the last congress. The exchange of niceties between camp Blatter and camp Platini these past two years does indeed give the impression of an intense fight between the two men for supremacy over the sport.
But this small war of one-liners can also be interpreted as a conflict between two bodies with very different interests and agendas: on the one hand there's UEFA, the representative of European soccer â€" including major clubs â€" which has its main honey pot through the Championsâ€™ League; on the other hand there's FIFA, which must manage the influence of developing countries seen as producers of raw resources (the young talented players imported and whose value is increased in Europe) and business customers for television networks in the soccer economy.
As Loulou Nicollin, the head of the Montpellier soccer club, reminded us last year: "UEFA is thrilling â€" thatâ€™s where the money, the power is; FIFA is more for retirement and reputation." Nicollin is both right and wrong. FIFA is indeed an odd assembly constructed on the old model of the League of Nations, where the president is far less the Master of the Universe than a Ban Ki-moon of soccer, who constantly has to reach compromises with the different confederations. And yet FIFA, provided that its president has his hands free, could become something completely different: a real organ of global soccer regulation and source of stability.
But does Michel Platini want to play this role? In UEFA, when it comes to fighting against inequalities, his results are mixed. Platini, who used to be Blatter's right-hand man, learned from the Swiss chief how important it is to guarantee the support of planet soccerâ€™s small countries. Platini is the man behind the development of aid programs for Eastern Europe, in Albania, Macedonia and Azerbaijan. Heâ€™s also behind the famous "financial fair-play" (obliging clubs to balance their expenses and their revenues every year), which allowed for combined losses of these clubs to be cut from 1.7 billion to 800 million euros.
A different logic
But since his election in 2007, a revolution in the European soccer landscape is yet to be witnessed. The major clubs are still getting larger. The smaller clubs ever more pauperized. "The goal of financial fair-play isnâ€™t so much reducing sporting uncertainties than avoiding systematic bankruptcy risks," explains one of his close advisors. "Letâ€™s be realistic: European culture is made of small and big clubs, and that is not going to change."
Platini has learned to adapt to the requirements of professional European soccer. UEFA even led the battle against "unrealistic" regulations such as the 6+5, suggested by FIFA, which would have forced clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain, to play with a minimum of five national players in order to preserve the uncertainty of results and limit the drain of young African or Brazilian talents.
The problem with FIFA is that it follows a completely different logic than that of the European confederation. Clubs only have a small influence in FIFA, since 100% of the revenues are generated by the World Cups â€" meaning the national teams â€" and the "one country, one vote" rule means that small and soccer-weak nations have disproportionate power.
Earlier in his post-playing career, some considered Platini a "dangerous revolutionary" and a "social romantic." Right now, he is looking more and more like the establishment candidate, if it is the role he so desires. Perhaps there is just one person left who could derail such a destiny: Sepp Blatter.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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