FIFA president Gianni Infantino has given a mixed reception to the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to uphold his former boss Michel Platini’s ban from football.
Platini had hoped sport’s highest court would squash his six-year ban but the Lausanne-based body only reduced it to four years, effectively ending his career in the game.
Speaking to journalists in Mexico City after his first FIFA Council meeting, Infantino said: ‘As president, I respect the decision of CAS, no doubt about that.
On a personal level, of course, I’m very sad about the decision. I’ve followed Michel for nine years at UEFA, seven as general secretary.
‘As UEFA president, he and I did some great things together and, at this moment, I really want to focus on those positive memories.’
Infantino only entered the race to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA boss because Platini’s ban left UEFA without a candidate.
Platini and Blatter, his former mentor, were initially given eight-year bans by a FIFA ethics committee in December over a two million Swiss francs (£1.4m) payment the veteran Swiss administrator paid the France and Juventus legend in 2011. These bans were reduced to six years by a FIFA appeals panel in February.
The pair have always claimed this was the balance of money Platini was owed since 2002 for consultancy work, and he had agreed to wait for payment until FIFA could better afford it.
The basis for this payment was what they described as a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to pay Platini one million Swiss francs (£700,000) a year.
But the three-man CAS panel said they could only find evidence for a salary of 300,000 Swiss francs and noted the payment was made shortly before the contentious 2011 FIFA presidential election that saw Blatter installed for a fourth term.
In witheringly understated terms, the CAS ruling said it ‘was not convinced by the legitimacy’ of the payment and it represented a clear conflict of interests.
It added that while six years was too severe, Platini deserved a significant ban because of an ‘absence of any repentance’ and the damage he had done to FIFA’s reputation.
Blatter, who appeared as a witness at Platini’s hearing on 29 April, has not had his appeal yet but nobody would be surprised if he withdraws from the fray.
Within minutes of the decision being published, the 60-year-old Frenchman issued a statement that attacked it as a ‘deep injustice’ and heralded his determination to fight on through the Swiss federal courts.
With his chances of victory there remote, he will resign as UEFA president, a position he has held since 2007, at next week’s meeting of the executive committee in Basle.
The European body has been operating without a president since December and with only an interim general secretary since Infantino’s promotion to the top job in world football.
That provisional replacement, Greece’s Theodore Theodoridis is expected to throw his hat into the ring to succeed Platini, along with the veterans Angel Maria Villar and Michael van Praag, and perhaps a younger candidate from the trio of former players now running national associations in eastern Europe: Poland’s Zbigniew Boniek, Dejan Savicevic of Montenegro and Croatian Davor Suker.
The winner of what promises to be a tight race should be decided at a UEFA meeting in Athens in September, just in time to lead the vital talks about revamping the Champions League from 2018.
For Platini, he must now get used to a life outside the football bubble, which will be particularly hard during next month’s European Championships in France, 32 years after he led Les Bleus to victory on home soil in 1984.
One small consolation might be that his former protege Infantino seemed reluctant in Mexico City to even think about chasing him for the ‘disloyal payment’ he owes FIFA.
‘No, now is not the moment to speculate about these things. The decision has just be taken today – it’s not the question now,’ he said.