After winning an uncontested ballot to secure a second four-year term as president of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, Michel Platini has been handed a strong mandate to carry out his raft of planned reforms.
Platini has a raft of reforms he wants to introduce in Europe
Despite his uncontested re-election, Michel Platini could face battles with Europe's big guns in his second term. The former world and European footballer of the year has been a divisive figure in European soccer since he took charge of UEFA in January 2007 with a promise to "take the game back to the fans in the smaller countries."
Indeed he has. The Champions League group stages have, in recent years, included more and more teams from third-tier soccer nations like Israel, Denmark, and Switzerland, trimming the number of qualifying teams in places like Portugal, Scotland, and Turkey.
Platini has also announced that he wants to reduce the number of Italian, Spanish, and English teams that participate in the Champions League to a maximum of three instead of four, awarding the freed up spaces to leagues which have performed well under the UEFA coefficient system which monitors the results of teams in European competition. Germany's Bundesliga is one of the leagues expected to benefit, most likely at Italy's expense.
"Platini has had a certain amount of success in opening the Champions League up to smaller countries and clubs but he took up the position with a wider plan which has been adapted as time has gone on," Mihir Bose, a respected sportswriter and who was once sports editor of the BBC, told Deutsche Welle.
"He is a soccer romantic at heart and has tried to marry the traditions of the old European Cup with the new economic realities, so he has had to compromise to get the changes he has achieved implemented."
Platini hopes to clamp down on soccer's spending spree
As well as trying his best to make good on his "inclusive" election promise, Platini has also set himself on a collision course with Europe's biggest clubs by producing a plan which will ban clubs from exceeding their budgets and running up huge debts.
Platini's plan, which will be part of UEFA's club licensing regulations which come into force in 2012-13, will set a cap on how much debt a club can operate under, meaning that clubs must break even and only spend the money they generate.
If any club - be it Barcelona, Manchester United or Schalke - fails to keep its debt levels under the specified UEFA limit from the 2013-14 season onwards, they will be barred from competing in the Champions League and the Europa League.
"What Platini needs to do is give more clubs a chance, even out the playing field, equate the finances and stop the big clubs from buying their way to success," Bose said. "European soccer is top-heavy, with the same clubs reaching the latter stages of competitions every year."
Platini wants Messi's Barcelona and others to stay with UEFA
Debt at European clubs has spiraled during Platini's first term and as such, many of the giants of the European game are sweating nervously as the planned implementation date gets nearer. Some have angrily revived the idea of a rival competition outside of UEFA's jurisdiction - the oft-mooted European Super League - where no such financial constraints would exist.
For a man eager to redistribute the wealth and honors in European soccer, Platini is keen to avoid such a scenario.
"The European Super League is always a threat because the game is more about economics these days," said Bose, who has been seen as an authority on the business side of the modern game since his 1999 book Manchester Unlimited, which chronicled the rise of Manchester United into a financial superpower.
"In this case, there is the feeling that Platini is rowing against the tide and the question remains: will the tide be too strong for him?"
Debt rules aside, the Frenchman has served free-spending clubs with a warning over wages and transfer spending, both of which he is in favor of capping. Platini has also voiced his support for plans to limit foreign ownership in response to the influx of Middle Eastern, Russian and American investors into many leagues since he took office.
Germany's 50+1 rule already prohibits foreigners from owning the majority shares in Bundesliga clubs, reinforcing German ownership and keeping the majority voting rights at clubs with German nationals.
Platini sits with VIPs these days, but regular fans still take to him
The continent’s mega-club bosses might have found it difficult to assent to all the former France international’s proposals, but his plans have found fans among supporters - even in countries with the richest leagues.
"Platini generally did well in his first term," Steven Powell, Director of Policy for the Football Supporters' Federation, which groups over 180,000 fans of clubs and national teams throughout England and Wales, told Deutsche Welle. "He's continued to widen and deepen dialogue with professional soccer's forgotten stakeholders: the match-going fans."
"Platini gets a lot of stick, much of which seems to be to do with him being French,” said Powell, referring to his countrymen’s reflexive habit of viewing all things Gallic with a degree of skepticism.
“He's not perfect, but he 'gets it' far more than many football administrators - whose arrogance and conceit is only exceeded by their incompetence and stupidity."
Still, Powell was not ready to call Platini a perfect leader for European football, saying he’d blown at least one major decision - the expansion of the European Championships, set to grow from 16 to 24 teams at Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine.
"The expansion from eight to sixteen was very successful, but 24 will be too many. This decision needs a re-think."
Restriction on foreign players and under-18s on the agenda
Another of Platini's initiatives for his second term that might please fans will be the implementation of the 6+5 rule, which will require clubs playing in European competitions to field six home international players and five foreign players.
This plan has sent leagues heavy with foreign stars - such as the English Premier League - scurrying to cultivate talent to meet the new UEFA demands. Others such as the Bundesliga, which nurtures and holds onto its German stars, face an easier time complying.
European teams have been plundering Africa for talent
The 6+5 rule is also a central plank in Platini's contentious platform against the international transfer of players under 18, which the UEFA president likened to "child trafficking" in a speech to the European Parliament in 2009. The Frenchman has been urging the EU to prohibit the buying and selling of child stars, claiming that "paying a child to kick a ball is not that different from paying a child to work in a factory."
"Platini's sentiment should be applauded," said Mihir Bose. "Europe has become a stage for the best players in the world and as a result the best youngsters are brought here to be displayed. They are given huge opportunities - but what does this do to the leagues and clubs in Africa and South America which lose all their talent to Europe?"
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann