Michel Platini’s ability to play the political game as winningly as he played his football faces a delicate test. Some of his high-flying UEFA colleagues appear to be sleeping with the enemy.
On Tuesday Platini, as president of UEFA and a vice-president of FIFA, attends a ‘special meeting’ of the world federation’s executive in Zurich.
The most weighty agenda item concerns not the ISL fall-out but the appointments of the chairmen and members for the twin chambers of the sparkly new Ethics Committee.
Far more complex for Platini, however, is an item tucked further down the agenda labelled: “Modalities on the decision on Kosovo.”
This is an issue on which Platini has become wrong-footed out of loyalty to Serb friends such as former Saint-Etienne team-mate Yvan Curkovic (and to their Russian political puppet masters).
Half the rest of the world, including most of the European Union, ‘recognises’ Kosovo’s independence. Serbia does not and Russia, determined not to offer any chink of light to rebels in Chechnya, supports Serbia for political reasons all its own.
Serbia knows that, to fulfil its aim of entering the EU one day, it will have to recognize Kosovo eventually. In the meantime it refuses, so Russia refuses and because Russia refuses so Kosovo is denied recognition by the United Nations.
Without UN membership, it cannot attain recognition or admission to UEFA.
In the meantime the Kosovars still play football. Platini’s UEFA has repeatedly denied Kosovar teams the right to play friendly matches against UEFA sides. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, his patience exhausted with Platini’s political game, then drove through his own executive a permit for Kosovars to play FIFA members (in line with statutes).
The eight UEFA members of the FIFA executive, under Platini’s orders, abstained.
Since then Blatter and his FIFA aides have met both Serbs and Kosovars to discuss how these games can be organized – the “modalities,” as Blatter calls them.
Tuesday’s prospect is that UEFA’s caucus will abstain again. However the Kosovars fear that when any European national team or club asks permission to play a Kosovar team, UEFA will always refuse – merely, out of spite, transfering the road block to a different junction.
And yet…not everyone within UEFA feels the same. The German federation recently concluded a three-week coaches’ course in Kosovo and the Swedes will give Kosovo the stands from the historic Rasunda Stadium which is to be redeveloped. Moreover, the European Union is financing the installation of six artificial pitches in Kosovo in 2013.
That sounds like anything but a united front.
Does Platini possess the political skill to keep everyone on board?
Bearing in mind the latest thunderclap around Sepp Blatter, observers pondering the identity of the next FIFA president will watch how Platini treads the Kosovo road will particular interest.
Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is London-based Editor of SportsFeatures.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Visit www.KeirRadnedge.com for further information. Follow him on Twitter for more sports industry updates.
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