UEFA president Michel Platini talks freely about football and the direction in which the sport is heading.
UEFA president Michel Platini has been speaking to members of European Sports Media (ESM) to mark the announcement of the UEFA top ten player shortlist for the 2014/15 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. This is an initiative by UEFA President Michel Platini in conjunction with the ESM group.
ESM: How do you view the Best Player award and the past season?
Michel Platini: It was important that we had a European prize and it was nice to be linked with ESM, because you [represent] journalists from all over Europe, and come together to vote on the best players.
I wanted it to be a real vote – so thank you to ESM for organizing this. I think it’s a nice opportunity for everybody together to promote not only the best player, but also the magazines who promote the beauty of football.
It’s nice that we are together, and I am very proud and grateful for the collaboration, because I think it was, and still is a good idea.
As to how I see this past season, I can say that the football on the pitch is very good.
We now have the opportunity to see many games on TV all over the world, and people follow live matches all over Europe. Each Saturday and Sunday, we can see a good game in England, or Spain, or Italy, or Portugal, or France, or Germany; and we can also see football in Russia.
Then, at the end of the season, we have the UEFA Champions League final, which gives you the best of the best.
Today’s players are excellent, and I enjoy watching the games. There is positive football. There are not so many goalless draws – three points for a victory has proved a good idea, and people now play to win, rather than not to lose – as used to be the case for an old “Italian” like myself.
I enjoy today’s football. I have seen many games in 55 years, and it’s always a pleasure. The generations of players change, but you always have good players, good teams, good coaches, good tactics, and good club games.
Then the season is different, depending on where we are. In England, the show is better than in Italy – not perhaps the game, but the show, because in Italy the stadiums are empty owing to some problems.
When you see a game in England or Germany, you see that the pitch is beautiful, the stadium is full, you see that the game is tough, you see that the referee is good, and I think that this is very nice.
There are some differences. In France and Spain, they play differently to in England and Italy, but it’s always nice for the development of football, because the show that we give to the world – now that it’s worldwide from Europe – is beautiful. As president in Europe, I am very happy, and the Champions League is a consequence of all this football throughout Europe.
Are you tired of always giving the trophies to Spanish clubs?
No – because the Champions League is a very difficult competition, and because no one has won the trophy two years in a row, compared with what happened before in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup with Ajax, with Bayern and with Liverpool.
I always respect whoever wins the Champions League, because it is a tough season. When I was a player, we had important games from the quarter-finals onwards: we had two quarter-finals, two semi-finals and the final. Then after this, there was a trophy.
Now you begin good games in September… September! You already have good games, which you have to win. Of course, the big teams come through to the knockout phase, but I think I always present the trophy to the team which deserves to be the winners.
Do any particular moments stand out from this past season?
As president, it doesn’t really bother me, because the games are beautiful. However, as Michel Platini, former player of Juventus, I have in the past given the cup to a Milan club like Inter and I would have been happy to give it to another team from Italy, more specifically from Piedmont (laughs), but it was not possible because Barcelona played very well.
We always try to have an excellent atmosphere, as well as excellent referees. We make the pitches as good as possible and provide the best TV coverage during our competitions. I think [the UEFA Champions League] is a beautiful competition.
Did you have much chance to enjoy the recent U21 EURO in the Czech Republic?
I saw some games, but I know the players in the Champions League better than the younger ones. I will know them in some years’ time, when they are stars. In the final, Sweden played Portugal, two different teams than the ones we have seen in the past, and that is good.
Were you surprised by Germany’s 5-0 defeat in the semi-finals by Portugal?
There was surprise that Germany won 7-1 in Brazil in the semi-final of the World Cup. Everything is possible in football. That is the beauty of the game, because it’s unpredictable. You might never think that Germany could win 7-1 in Brazil, or lose 5-0 against Portugal in the U21 EURO.
This is why we come to see the game, and why we are fighting against match-fixing, because everyone knows that it was not a fixed game. Football is unpredictable. It’s the only game where you never know who will win.
Did you follow the Women’s World Cup, with two European teams in the semi-finals?
I saw a beautiful game, Germany against France. Unfortunately, and I am speaking as a Frenchman here, we lost against Germany. We didn’t deserve to lose, but it was a beautiful game. Women’s football is increasing greatly in quality, and we at UEFA are continuing our development work with it.
The problem of women’s football is that there is not a financial context like there is in the men’s game. The women would like to have the same competitions as the men, but there is not the same money.
This is why we have to go slowly with the development of the competitions, not only the development of the women’s game.
For some years, I have said: ‘Don’t ask me to bring professional players in, because you do not have the money to pay’ – unless we work through the professional clubs.
You could have clubs for example from the Premier League, Serie A or La Liga with a women’s team, and they could give for example 10 percent of the budget to the development of the women’s teams. That could be easier, but I am not sure that this will work everywhere.
Is it possible to bring full-time professionalism into women’s football?
Professionalism is because of the money – not only because they want to be professional. The difficulty is that for UEFA, it is a matter for the national associations, the leagues, and the clubs. It’s more a national topic than international.
In Germany, the Women’s World Cup drew more TV spectators than the U21 EURO. Did that surprise you?
No. They love women’s football in Germany.
As for the under-21 competition, there are some decisions to be taken in the future about what could happen with the competition, because it’s not a youth tournament when you are 21 years of age – and, by the time of the finals, players are 23 years old when they play.
It’s an “in-between” competition. Some players are 23 years of age – but I had won 20 caps for the French national team by the time that I was 23.
What happened a long time ago was that the education of players was undertaken by the national associations – so we created competitions to develop the players.
However, back then, at 17 or 18, they had not been in a professional club at 12 or 13, as they are now.
That means that the development of young players today is very different. Now, when they are 18, it’s almost as if they have been professional players for six years. When I was 18, I had just arrived in the professional league.
That means that a big change has taken place – so, for me, these competitions such as the Under- 21 [championship] are a little bit strange today. A long time ago, it was OK to use this sort of competition to develop the players – but, nowadays, players at 23 are developed, because they began working at Barcelona, or Chelsea or Bayern at the age of 12. It is an issue for reflection.
What about the Olympic tournament?
The Olympic tournament creates some problems for the clubs, but all the players love to participate in the Olympic Games, and the clubs know that the release of the players is a little complicated.
Who are your best players now?
Of course, Ronaldo and Messi.
For the Best Player awards list, we expect some Barcelona players. Do you see a difference between the Barcelona of Pep Guardiola and the Barcelona of Luis Enrique?
Of course, a lot of difference. Who was the forward in Pep’s team? When I saw them beat Santos in Tokyo, when they won 4-0, there was no forward. There were Messi and Fabregas, there was total [movement]. Now we have three forwards: Messi, Suarez and Neymar. That’s totally different.
How did Barcelona win the last Champions League?
Counter-attack. It’s like Juventus against Italians. They beat them by counter-attack. That didn’t happen some years ago.
This shows that you have to adapt your team to respect your players. When you have Messi, Neymar and Suarez, you play differently to when you have other players.
Do you have a preference?
No. I enjoy watching the players. To make these choices is your job as journalists, not mine. I am no longer national-team coach – I look at the security of the stadium, I look to see that the referee doesn’t make a mistake, and I look to see players playing well.
The Barcelona of Guardiola or Luis Enrique – who would have been the better coach for you as a player?
It’s different [now]. Look where Messi played before, and where he plays now. It’s two different styles of game. Now he plays on the right, but before, when he began, he played on the left, then he played more [centrally], now on the right because players change and the coach is not stupid. Does the coach say: ‘I play like that because I want to’? No, it’s because he has players who play like that.
For example, Barcelona won the Champions League final when Juventus thought that they could win the game. They played like Italians at the end, and won by playing on the counter-attack. When Juventus started thinking they could win, they lost – because Barcelona have three fantastic players who can score when they want.
Is the Barcelona attack the best of this era?
For the moment, yes, because they won the Champions League. But, last year, it was [Real Madrid’s] Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale. Things can change with every game.
Do think football has become much faster in the last 10 years?
Do you think Messi is faster than 10 years ago? Do you think Ronaldo is faster than 10 years ago? I don’t think that players are faster than 10 or 20 years ago.
The fact that the game is more protected by the referee, that you have balls around the pitch, and because you don’t give the ball back to the goalkeeper and he stops the ball makes the game automatically more intense.
It’s not a question of the players. I’m not sure that a player today is quicker than a player 30 years ago, but the way of how to play is automatically faster.
Perhaps the players are more [physically] prepared than 20 years ago – but the ball is always the most important factor. As my father always told me: ‘Michel, the ball will always run more quickly than you.’
So at least there is more football in the 90 minutes than in your day?
Perhaps we have up to 20 minutes more football. The game is more intense but I don’t think that the players have changed.
Why have been Ronaldo and Messi been able to keep scoring so many goals for so long?
Ronaldo and Messi are totally different and totally exceptional – so when you ask whether one or the other is better, you cannot do it. The game is beautiful for that. It’s just because they are incredible, and there is a team that plays for them.
It was the same with Brazil’s Ronaldo, in the past, and with many other players. In a great team, you always have a great player – and the great player has become great because he has a great team. It was the same in the case of Ajax, in the case of Johan Cruyff. He made the difference for them, but he needed a good team around him to do it. It’s a collective game.
So why have we never seen players scoring goals like Ronaldo and Messi before in modern times?
Take Hugo Sanchez at Real Madrid in the 1980s: how many goals did he score in his best season? 38. He did not have the same team around him, because the budget of Real Madrid was not the same as it is now with Ronaldo and Benzema – or the budget of Barcelona now, who not only have Messi, but also Neymar and Suarez.
Isn’t it also true that the transfer rules were different then?
Now, with the Bosman rule, you can have all the best players in the same team. In the past, in Spain, you had Real Madrid, Atlético, Barcelona, Valencia – a lot of teams – and all the players were in different teams.
Now, more or less, the best players are in one or two clubs. The Bosman rule, not football, changed things.
Does this make it more difficult to promote national team football when high-level club football is so strong?
We are promoting national team football through the EURO qualifiers, and this will be more and more important, because people like the national teams.
What will be important in the future is to limit the possibility to have the best players in one or two teams. That is important for competition. If everybody is in one team, this is not so good, and [with] the Bosman rule, it was difficult at the beginning, but people know that now.
I totally support the agenda saying that we need more home-grown players, because it is not possible to fight on nationality. However, we have meetings in September with Mr. [Jean-Claude] Junker and the European Commission to work on this.
It cannot be possible that the best teams should have all the best players, or competition itself is finished. At the moment, you have big clubs with a lot of money who can have everybody. We have to think about football in all of Europe – not only in two or three clubs.
Is this one of the achievements of financial fair play?
The clubs asked me to do something, because they cannot continue to pay this and because of the losses – we had a total of €1.7bn – so we had to do something, and we have done something. I think the principle is working very well. We have seen considerable improvements in the financial health of club football, with the aggregate losses of European clubs decreasing from around 1.7 billion euros in 2011 to a bit over 400 million euros in 2014 thanks to the financial fair play. So it’s a success!
Of course, one or two clubs are not so happy but, against that, thousands of clubs are happy.
The president of the Spanish league is opposed to the ban on third-party ownership, because the smaller clubs think that this is the only way that they can compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona. What do you think?
TPO is finished, it is forbidden by FIFA. And it is good that [TPO] is forbidden. TPO turns money of the clubs into the money of individuals, so the clubs stay poor and the individuals become rich. TPO takes the money from football. It goes to some offshore company. Then the players can’t decide anything for themselves, because they become a product.
I went on strike when I was young, in support of a player being free at the end of his contract to go where he wants. Now the players belong to companies which make the decisions. To my way of thinking, it’s a scandal. We have to fight them. They can go to court. But the moral high ground is mine. That the player should belong to some ‘fund’ is a scandal.
TPO is a problem for the integrity of competitions. It creates a risk of conflict of interest. Individuals or companies may effectively own or control various players at different clubs and could therefore influence the result of sporting competition. There might also be a perception that sporting results could be susceptible to manipulation. This risk is increased further still if third-party investors have a financial interest not only in the “economic rights” of players but also in other football clubs. Third-parties might take advantage of a club in financial difficulty to take control of its players and influence the transfer policies of clubs.
At the end it damages the reputation of the game. There are moral and ethical concerns about permitting companies established for the expressed purpose of “trading” the “economic rights” in human beings. Last but not least, the lack of transparency creates further risks of money- laundering and other criminal activities.
I understand the problem, because it’s a business. The transfer system is not being used to improve teams, but to take money out of football. That’s why TPO is a scandal
People can say what they want. The moral high ground is not theirs. It could be that they go to court, so then a judge can decide whether TPO should be shown a red card or a yellow card. I am confident as FIFPro, the Union of the players, agree with me on this issue: they also think TPO should be forbidden once and for all as players are not products.
Are you convinced that financial fair play stands up legally?
Yes. Which company with €1.7bn losses every year can survive in the world? One day, it will explode. The time has gone when football could exist above the rules of life. It’s finished.
We had to do something, otherwise there would have been an explosion. In creating FFP, we protect the clubs, and we protect football, because with the losses that there were, we had to do something. When we have resolved the problem of the losses, perhaps we can work on investment. But it was my job to do that. Look how many clubs we have lost in the past years.
Isn’t it also the case that securing club finances can help make players less vulnerable to match-fixing?
Of course. It’s a question of ethics – it was my job as [UEFA] president to think about that.
When you have the moral high ground and ethics on your side, it’s always good, and it’s also always good when you can look at yourself in the mirror. I am a man of conviction, and I will always defend and fight on the basis of my convictions, and not for politics, because I think what I do, and then I do what I think.
Some countries are starting to introduce their own FFP rules, and we have seen clubs relegated in Spain for not paying their taxes. Your view?
It’s a good news that some countries are starting to introduce their own FFP rules. England did it, Spain too. It shows that we were right and there was a need to act. Clubs have to pay their players and their taxes too, it’s a must and it’s common sense.
Is this a delicate time for you within FIFA?
Please understand, that for the moment I don ́t comment on this issue.
A last question about Spain, where Angel Maria Villar has been president of the federation for 27 years. Is it good for someone to stay so long in the job?
He has been elected, no? He is elected by the people who trust him, so if he is elected by good people, you have to accept that. Spain won the World Cup and the EURO twice, Real Madrid and Barcelona win their competitions, and the football in Spain is very good.
Angel is a football person. I would never stay 27 years in a position, but he is elected. He was a young president. He was a player – I played against him. I will never stay as long as that, you can be sure, but it depends on him. There is no [term] limit.
If people are not happy, then they won’t vote for him. It’s democracy. If people don’t want him, they won’t vote for him anymore. But I think what has happened these last years with the Spanish National teams is good.
ESM interview with the UEFA President Best Player(s) in Europe Awards promotion
Source: World Soccer