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Switzerland

Michel Platini Interview: I'm Not A Money Man

Suspended for three months by FIFA's Ethics Committee for a 2 million Swiss franc payment from Sepp Blatter, the former French soccer star denies any wrongdoing, and still says he's the right man to be the next president of the global soccer org

Embattled Platini
Embattled Platini
Raphaelle Bacqué

GENOLIER — The village of Genolier is barely 25 minutes from the Geneva airport, just above Lake Geneva. This is where Michel Platini bought, at the top of the village, a duplex apartment, in a large, ultra-modern building that forms, with the neighboring clinic, a curious white mass in the heart of the countryside.

The head of the European Soccer governing body UEFA agreed to receive Le Monde here, at a time when his candidacy for the presidency of FIFA has been gravely undermined by revelations of a 2 million Swiss franc (1.8 million euro) payment, in 2011, promised by the man who has occupied the position atop the Zurich-based world soccer organization since 1998, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter.

Platini, 60, a legendary French soccer star, has received calls in the last few days from both French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, to enquire about his spirits.

LE MONDE: The Swiss justice system is examining 2 million Swiss francs Joseph Blatter paid to you in 2011. On Oct. 8, the FIFA's Ethics Committee suspended you both for 90 days. In these conditions, will you still be a candidate to the presidency of the Federation?

MICHEL PLATINI: I still want to, anyway! You see he points toward Lake Geneva, Zurich is only 259 kilometers away, in this direction. I've been suspended for three months but what annoys me the most is being tarred with the same brush as the others. I find it disgraceful to have my name dragged through the mud. For the rest, my lawyers are following the FIFA procedures and will take it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if necessary. I hope all this will be done quickly.

How is it that Blatter paid you 2 million Swiss francs, with no contract, for work that ended nine years earlier?

This story can sound surprising but this is what happened. In 1998, I was president of the organizing committee for the World Cup (in France) and a new FIFA president had to be elected. I was in Singapore and Blatter asked to see me in his room. He immediately asked me: "So, are we doing this or not?" He told me Havelange Joao Havelange had been the president of FIFA since 1974 and was then finishing his last mandate told him: "Platini president and Blatter secretary general — it's a very elegant solution." Except that I wasn't interested. I was working on the World Cup, I didn't see myself doing that. So Blatter decided to go: "I'll run, but I'll need you." We saw each other again two months later. He asked me to be his soccer advisor. I agreed. "How much do you want?," Blatter asked. I answered: "One million." "One million what?" "Whatever you like — rubles, pounds, dollars." At the time, the euro didn't exist yet. He answered: "Ok, one million Swiss francs per year."

You asked for one million up front and then didn't care about the rest? You're either very proud or very careless.

I'm not a money man. I was a volunteer president of the organizing committee for the World Cup. In 1992, I renounced going to Real Madrid, when the guys from Real gave me a check where I could add the number of zeros I wanted. When I told Blatter "One million of whatever you like," I was also telling him "choose what you want to give me …"

So you're proud. But also careless because there's no trace of any contract. Don't you have a lawyer to spare you such uncertainty?

It's been a long time since I last had a lawyer or an agent negotiating for me. And it was a man-to-man thing. He was about to become president of FIFA. FIFA! I felt confident. Anyway, I learned that in Swiss law, an oral contract is worth a written contract. In any case, he was elected and I started working in September.

What did you do for that amount?

I worked on the reform of the world calendar for competitions, on the "goal project," a FIFA aid and support scheme to the poorest federations in the world. And I also went with Blatter during his trips a lot. In short, I worked a lot and lots of people can testify to this.

This still doesn't explain the 2 million paid in 2011. Why would you be paid so late for work that took place between 1998 and 2002?

In fact, I worked several months without earning anything. After a while, I went to see Blatter and asked him: "Are you having trouble paying me?" He told me: "Yes. I can't pay you one million because of the pay grid. You understand, the secretary general earns 300,000 Swiss francs. You can't have more than three times his salary. So we'll do a contract for 300,000 Swiss francs and we'll make the full payment later." That's what happened. Except that later never came.

And it took you nine years to remind him what he owed you?

I stopped working for him in June 2002, when I entered FIFA's executive committee. I didn't ask because I didn't need anything. You know, I started earning money at the age of 17. I didn't even know it was possible with soccer. I remember my father, who was a math teacher, couldn't get over it and asked the club in Nancy (France): "And you're going to give him money to play?" I've kept these values. Money, I have enough of it. Ask my wife, I never check any account Christèle Platini agrees, with a roll of the eyes. I'm just like that. But I should have asked for an acknowledgement of debt, so none of this would have happened.

In brief, after a while, you ask for your money …

I asked to get in touch with the finance office of FIFA, and they asked Blatter if he owed me money. And he said yes. I sent an invoice on their request. And there, I made a mistake at my own cost. I didn't remember I had been paid 300,000 Swiss francs, I thought it was 500,000 and that I was owed an adjustment of 500,000 per year over four years. So I sent an invoice for 2 million. I was paid ten days later without any difficulty from FIFA, and I myself paid charges and taxes on this amount, quite normally. Honestly, if there was any doubt at all, FIFA would have refused to pay me and, for that matter, that would have been somewhat of a bother, seeing as there's a statute of limitations after five years and they could have refused to honor their debt.

Was it Joseph Blatter who revealed this to cover his own back because you sought a replacement that he didn't want?

I don't know. Let's say I have doubts. In any case, all this came out from the moment I asked for his resignation and became a candidate. I'm the only one who can ensure that FIFA becomes the home of soccer again, but every time I get closer to the sun, like Icarus, it burns all over.

What were your relations with Blatter?

I respected him, saw him as a friend. His wife Christèle interrupts: "You admired him!"Yes, I admired the politician. He has a lot of charisma and I can say that, in some way, he subjugated me. Even though he wants to kill me politically, I still have a bit of affection for what we lived through together.

When did you last have a one-on-one discussion with him?

When I advised him to leave. I told him, as a friend, "You should leave, for your own good …" He answered: "I can't." Since then, we've come across each other during meetings, we greet each other, but that's it.

The Swiss authorities are interested in the terms and conditions for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which it suspects involved bribes. Don't you regret voting for this country?

No. I am the only one to have said in all transparency that I voted for Qatar and the only one who talked about that lunch at the Elysée at the French presidential palace, on Nov. 23, 2010 with Nicolas Sarkozy and the Emir of Qatar, for which I was later criticized — as if Sarkozy told me who to vote for! My honesty is harming me. The truth is that I voted on Dec. 2, 2010 because I wanted the World Cup to take place in the Gulf, an area with an extraordinary soccer audience that has never hosted it.

Do you think that, has you been captain of the French squad, you would have voted for Qatar?

These prejudices are rubbish! There's a three-hour time difference, we'll play in winter, it'll be amazing. My only regret is that it won't take place in all the Gulf countries because of geopolitical reasons. All this nonsense needs to stop. Because I voted for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup, they say that I received Picassos from Putin. Good thing Rasputin is dead, otherwise I would have been accused of being his accomplice!

You have also been criticized because your son, Laurent, works for the Qatari kit supplier Burrda Sport, owned by the Qatar Sports Investments funds, which owns the Parisian squad PSG. Wouldn't it be better if he resigned, to remove any doubt on a possible conflict of interest?

But that has nothing to do with the World Cup! Sébastien Bazin the former head of Colony Capital, the main stockholder of PSGintroduced him to the kit supplier and he started working there a year and a half after the vote in favor of Qatar Laurent Platini has been working for QSI since Nov. 2011. There's no conflict of interest. My son lives his own life and I certainly won't intervene in it.

You do know that FIFA has been sapped by venal appetites and corruption?

I know there's an archaic system, with archaic people. Television brought money and money brought people who like money. We'll have to set up inspections at all levels. The change of president is a good opportunity. When you sweep away, you sweep away from the top. Many people have already left, there are replacements going on, we need to push the transformation. In any case, if FIFA doesn't change, the FBI will make sure it changes.

Have you read the report by the prosecutor Michael Garcia on the terms and conditions of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups? If you're elected president of FIFA, do you commit to publishing it?

I haven't had access to it and I don't know what's in it. It's complicated to publish it because there are testimonies and people cited who don't want to be known. But why not? And I'll committ to a two-term limit. Soccer needs FIFA and I'm the only soccer player popular enough and who's in a position to take over the presidency and finally deal with things.

Can a Frenchman still run FIFA in the face of the Anglo-Saxon competition, the Asian appetite and the emergence of Africa?

Bringing together people from different cultures is complicated. Some are scared of their journalists, others make you think they disagree but then vote for you. I don't think I lost many votes and people who know me know I can still look at myself in the mirror. I've become hardened. People have been judging me tirelessly for the past 40 years: "You missed a goal!", "You came up with a poor team!", "You did financial fair-play!". My only hope is that they won't stop me from being a candidate. It irritates them that a soccer player — and not a pure politician — wants to be the boss. But I don't like losing. Especially over a non-existent scandal.

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