Sunday, February 22 nd, 2015
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From Juventus' legend to Uefa's presidency: Michel Platini's stunning career
The Frenchman was the first player to win three Ballon d'or in a row before Lionel Messi. A mix of personality, class and ambition led him at the top of the world
by Gianluca Famigli
Michel Platini, Le Roi: these two words encompass the whole legend of one of the greatest players on earth. Like every man, he had to fight, fall and rise to become the champion he was on the field. Now as then, he is ruling football with his sharp irony, with his desire for permanent improvement in order to reach the top. There is a sentence that summarises his all career and way of living: “I played in Nancy because it was my home town and was the best team in Lorraine, in Saint-Etienne because it was the best team in France, and in Juventus because it is the best team in the world”. What he didn't say is the fact that he played for Nancy because he was rejected by Metz for “insufficient breathing capacity”. This incredible mistake reminds another player rejected due to apparently physical deficiency, Lionel Messi, the only one capable to break his record of three consecutive Ballon d'Or (1983, 1984, 1985).

During his all career, Platini experienced many difficulties: he had to fight hard in order to achieve his objectives. The rejection from Metz is only the first example. In fact, a similar episode happened few years later at Nancy, where he started to play in the first team in 1972. It was the beginning of his last season at Nancy after France's 1978 World Cup failure, which Platini was considered responsible for. The public booed and whistled at him, he broke his right ankle and stayed out for 6 months: at that time any player would stop, but he didn't. After 215 matches and 127 goals (all time record for the club), Platini decided to move to Saint-Etienne to play and possibly to win at European level. His expectations of victory in Europe had not been satisfied: the Verts didn't go beyond the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. Three years after his arrival, Platini left Saint-Etienne and signed for Juventus. Until then, Platini's career was a mixed success. He had won a French Cup, a Ligue 1 Championship and arrived twice third in the Ballon d'Or chart. His transfer to Italy completely changed his life.

Curiously enough Platini was very close to move to Italy few years earlier. In fact in 1978 he signed a pre-agreement with Internazionale, Juventus' archrival. At that time though Serie A had a blockade for non-italian players and Platini signed for Saint-Etienne. The following year the blockade was gone, but Platini was already under contract with Saint-Etienne and the three years pre-contract with Internazionale expired. In any case he visited the training ground of Internazionale in Appiano Gentile (Milan) and met the coach of that time Bersellini, who wasn't too happy about the deal: “You always bring me outrageous people. This one has a bride ass and flat feet!”. A couple of days later, Platini scored against Zoff in a friendly game against Italy and Bersellini retracted: “Although he has a bride ass and flat feet, he knows how to use them!”.

During the summer of 1982, Platini was approached by Juventus. He contacted Internazionale to keep his word, but the Nerazzurri refused and Juventus signed Platini for only 148 millions Liras (74k Euros!). Juventus' President Gianni Agnelli, Andrea's uncle, admitted that “we bought him for a piece of bread and he put foie gras on it”. With no doubt, that signing gave a boost to Platini's career: he was part of the team with 7 World Champions (Zoff, Cabrini, Scirea, Gentile, Tardelli, Causio and Paolo Rossi, who won the Ballon d'Or that year). Once again though, the beginning was not promising. The victorious players from the Spanish World Cup were tired and Platini didn't fit in the team's schemes. Many people were already criticising his signing: 4 goals in 20 matches in the first part of the league. Then the magic happened.

27-02-1983 Juventus 4-0 Udinese. That day Platini's career turned with his 2 goals. Since then Platini scored 12 goals in 10 matches in Serie A. Platini won the first of three consecutive top scorer titles and Juventus arrived second behind the legendary Roma of Paulo Roberto Falcao. Along with his restored team mates, Platini won the Coppa Italia and reached the cursed European Cup final in Athens. Everything went wrong, Magath scored and another European failure stained Juventus' and Platini's history. The bitter disappointment only reinforced Platini's determination to succeed and two years later, in 1985, Juventus reached again the European Cup's final. Juventus won that match and Platini scored the decisive penalty kick in an unrealistic atmosphere. It was again a cursed final.

The game against Liverpool was staged at Heysel Stadium and 39 Italian fans were killed by the madness and violence of some hooligans. That match wasn't supposed to be played and Platini become a sad champion, with no other expectation from the future: the dream of his life was ruined forever.

Fortunately Platini recovered from the shock and found new motivations. That same year the Intercontinental Cup was staged in Tokyo. Juventus played against Argentinos Juniors and that match will be remembered as the consecration of Le Roi Platini. In order to be memorable and give start to the myth, the match was an upside-down of emotions that ended up in penalty shoot-outs. Juventus won, but everybody remembers the most controversial and genial moment of Platini's career, when he scored a wonderful goal that the referee disallowed. Platini then decided to complain in a unique way: he laid down on the ground and lean the head on his hand, pretending to watch the show.

Platini concluded his career a year later in 1987, when he retired at 32 after several personal and club's trophies. With Juventus, he played a total of 224 games and scored 104 times. His success at club's level was replicated at national level. With the French national team he won the 1984 European Championship staged in France and arrived third at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. In those years Platini was part of the French carré magique, the midfield magic box made up with Fernandez, Giresse and Tigana. Nowadays Platini is still the second all time top scorer of the French national team with 41 goals in 72 matches (second after Henry's 51 goals).

The story of Platini as footballer ends here, but not the story of Le Roi. In fact, after the failing coaching experience at the French national team, Platini organised the successful 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. As vice-president of the French football federation, he was then elected UEFA president in 2007. Since then he has started a complete transformation of the european football movement with a new set of regulations and competitions: the Financial Fair Play, the reform of the UEFA Cup in the Europa League and the creation of the Nations League, among other things. What is his next goal on the list? The FIFA presidency perhaps? In any case we know that when Platini decides to do something, sure he does it in the best way. Because he is Le Roi, Le Roi of football.

Saturday, January 3 rd, 2015
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