THE NEW KING OF UEFA
Football across Europe is bracing itself for a revolution of sorts, one, suitably, inspired by a Frenchman. When he graced the playing fields of France and, for five glorious years, Juventus, they called Michel Platini ‘le Roi', the king.
He was among the 10 best footballers of the 20th century, a player of style and invention who won a trunkload of medals and gasps of admiration from his peers and supporters.
Now, poured reluctantly into a suit, wavy dark hair thinned a little, waist thickened and piercing gaze undimmed, the urbane Frenchman finds himself in charge of European football, a position of great influence that he promises he will use to bring profound change to the game.
The election of Platini as president of Uefa in Dusseldorf on Friday came as a shock to many, not the least the man he replaced, the 77-year-old career sports politician Lennart Johansson. The Swede fully expected to hold the job that had been his since 1990, despite faltering health in recent years.
Articulate and forthright, with interests that extend beyond football, Johansson's young successor is not the archetypal upstart. He talks quietly but with the authority only former champions carry with them into middle age.
Some times impetuous as a player, Platini has mellowed without losing his fire. His father Aldo, always a great influence, said before the vote: ‘He has matured, has much more self-control. Michel the player and Michel today are two totally different characters.'
Platini, 51, whose administrative skills and profile as an organiser were on show during the France '98 World Cup, had been urged by supporters to turn over the old order, to break up the hegemony of the G14, those rich clubs from the leading countries which dominate the Champions League, and to draw into that competition more teams from Eastern Europe. That is a pledge he says that is 'close to my heart'.
In April, the new president will propose to Uefa's executive committee that no country can enter more than three teams from 2009-10 onwards. It will upset the big four in the Premiership - Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool - not to mention ambitious clubs outside that clique.
Already the Football Association and the Premier League are working behind the scenes to dissuade him from going ahead with a plan they think will seriously disrupt the finances of the domestic game. Platini's plans for a salary cap will not win much support, either. There will also be disgust with the arriviste in Spain and Italy, where four clubs are also allowed to enter.
Platini might have more joy in convincing Uefa to expand the European Championship from 16 to 24. But, in the Champions League, the power, and the TV clout, is with the clubs. Platini, however, appears very much up for the fight.