And they all fall down: a crazy year in football4 min read . Updated: 23 Dec 2015, 07:12 PM IST
Special ones, corrupt ones, charming ones...they all get the boot
What a crazy end to a crazy year. In the space of five days, Chelsea sacked their most successful manager ever, seven months after he brought them another Premier League title, and Fifa, or Fédération Internationale de Football Association, handed life bans—over corruption charges—to not only their president, Sepp Blatter, but also the man who, not so long ago, was seen as his credible, fresh-faced successor, Michel Platini. It was a scenario inconceivable in early May, when Chelsea raced to the title with three games in hand, and in the last week of that month, when Blatter arrived for Fifa’s annual conference as the undisputed boss of world football.
José Mourinho’s exit has been well documented, as has his slo-mo freefall since the very first day of the current season, when he publicly pulled up the club’s doctor for attending to a player during a match against the manager’s wishes. That incident, watched live by millions across the world, was compounded by various acts of hubris, off-field rants against referees and other ill-advised decisions which led to a dispirited dressing room and, eventually, poor results on the field. The plug had to be pulled and eventually Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich did just that.
Over in Switzerland, it was a similar story of hubris and ill-advised decisions, compounded by charges of financial corruption against Blatter (and Platini). There was no billionaire owner to pull the plug on Blatter’s 17-year reign as Fifa president; instead, its own ethics committee investigated the charges and, earlier this week, pronounced them guilty and with no role to play in football ever again.
What happens now is unclear; Blatter, in scenes reminiscent of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) after the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) fixing case came to light, has denied and protested against everything, including the locus standi of the Fifa committee in banning him for life. He will not go without a fight and, though he is already due to quit in February, when Fifa elects a new president, he will want to go on his own terms, and with his record reasonably intact, rather than be thrown out.
Blatter’s story had almost played out and he had no future; the strong indictment is, in real terms, almost symbolic—though a powerful testament to the long arm of the law—and will affect little more than his personal epitaph. And Blatter was a suit. The real betrayal is Platini’s: a hero of the masses, one of the all-time greats, and intelligent and charming to boot. For those who remember football in the 1980s, Platini was part of a golden generation of French players—others included Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse—that won Euro 1984 and could have won the world cup held on either side of that tournament. They wowed the neutrals, especially after that 1982 semi-final against West Germany, when their defender Patrick Battiston was poleaxed and knocked unconscious by the German goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher. They played superb, fluid football and the orchestrator of it all was Platini, who often turned finisher as well.
His life in administration started out brightly; he was the co-organizer of the 1998 World Cup in France, which was celebrated, when the hosts won the tournament, as a victory for the emerging “rainbow nation". But things turn murky after that; he took on a leading role in Uefa, Europe’s governing body, and entered into an alliance with Blatter. That alliance eventually led to their downfall; the payment of $2 million (around ₹ 13 crore) by Blatter to Platini in 2011 was, according to both, for services rendered previously, but it was never mentioned in the contract they signed for that period. By then Platini had already blotted his copybook with his championing of Qatar’s world cup bid before, during and after it secured the 2022 tournament.
While Platini seemed to have brought the silky skills and sharp intellect of his playing days into his role in administration, he very obviously leveraged his status as an on-field legend, especially when seen in contrast to Blatter the bureaucrat. A Platini without the baggage of Qatar and without that $2 million in the bank would have been a shoo-in as Blatter’s successor. That is what the game had hoped for, that is what he had sold us all these years. He had it all, and he threw it away. And that is the betrayal.
In a way, Mourinho had it all too: the familiarity of Chelsea, the loyalty of players and fans, a more mellow owner, his status as a modern great assured. In one of his several bizarre press conferences before his sacking, he said he had been betrayed by the players. The greater betrayal, though, was by him. Mourinho’s return to the footballing fray is guaranteed, the only questions are when and where; Platini’s only hope of redemption, though, now lies with an extraordinary act of compassion by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, if and when he appeals. This season of miracles has already rid football of its most corrupt high-ranking individual; can it ensure that the process to clean up the game goes the full 90 minutes—and extra time if necessary?
Jayaditya Gupta is the executive editor of Espncricinfo.