Michel Platini's missed opportunity
MONACO -- Michel Platini will not run for the FIFA presidency in 2015 and that, almost certainly, means Sepp Blatter will run the world game for another four years, right through his 83rd birthday. (While Blatter has yet to formally announce his candidacy, it appears a given after the raucous acclamation he received from delegates at the last FIFA congress.)
The supposition had been that Platini would stand against Blatter if he believed he had a chance of defeating him. The fact that he will, instead, seek another term at the helm of UEFA suggests Blatter's grip on FIFA and the bulk of its 209 member nations is as strong as ever. It's a charge the UEFA president denies.
"No, my choice isn't based on who is running, but rather what I wanted to run for," he said on Thursday. "And I feel like my work here at UEFA isn't finished. It's a choice I'm making with my heart. I said that I can beat Blatter, but perhaps we'll have to wait another four years to find out. Now is not the time, now is not my time ... not yet."
Draw your own conclusions. However, it does feel as if Platini staying out of the race means we're looking at a rubber-stamp election, particularly now that the requirements for running for the FIFA presidency have been tightened and he was the most viable alternative to the current FIFA boss. He was also perhaps the most high-profile football administrator to have called Blatter out on a number of issues and as close to a credible candidate for change that FIFA was going to get.
Blatter joined FIFA in 1975 and became general secretary way back in 1981, serving as Joao Havelange's right-hand man. When Havelange stepped aside, he ran for president in 1998 and again in 2002 and 2007. In 2011, he ran for a fourth term, saying it would be his final one. That promise not to run again is, many believe, what prompted Platini not to stand against him at the time. But now Blatter says he's open to running again since the FIFA family wants him to. And there's little standing in his way.
"You know my story with Blatter," Platini said. "I supported him in 1998, 2002, 2007 ... he asked me to support him one last time and I looked him in the eye and said I would not do so. And I told him he should not run again. I will not support Blatter, I will support someone who brings something new to the world of football."
The problem is that "someone" either doesn't exist or, like Platini, isn't coming forward to challenge Blatter. Further, if he or she did, it's hard to see how he or she could win, given the current FIFA boss' stranglehold, particularly among certain confederations.
What could change that? Two things. Either some earth-shattering revelations in Michael Garcia's report into allegations of impropriety in bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which went to Russia and Qatar respectively, or Blatter having a sudden change of heart.
But the Garcia report, which keeps getting delayed, is unlikely to have a negative impact on Blatter or his power base, while a "change of heart" from a guy who has been at the heart of the world's game in five different decades seems far-fetched.
So Platini will be sitting this one out and distancing himself further from Blatter; a process which continued on Thursday.
The Frenchman called for members of FIFA's Executive Committee to be more independent.
"We don't want to be sheep, we need to play a stronger role," he said. "We can't let Blatter be omnipresent and omnipotent. We need a counterbalance.
"We want a FIFA that works better and that has more transparency and is respected by those who love football," he said. "And we'll do everything we can to make it happen. But, right now, what interests me is UEFA."
You can't help but feel it's a missed opportunity. It's never good -- for any organization -- when the guy at the top goes unchallenged.
Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC, The Times and Corriere dello Sport. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.