Sunday, February 7, 2010

A whole lotta bother on Platini's plate

A whole lotta bother on Platini's plate.
WARSAW, EURO 2012 Qualifying Draw

As if worrying about Ukraine's hotels, roads and airports was not enough, UEFA President Michel Platini had other questions to answer in his press conference on the eve of the European Championship qualifying draw.

Depressingly, four separate English journalists asked him the same question in different wording about John Terry's sex scandal, speciously implying a parallel with the one in 1982 when France sent Jean-Francois Larios home from the World Cup after he had been seeing Platini's wife.

Thankfully the French legend was made of stronger stuff than to lower himself to those hacks' baiting, but seemed to lose patience eventually by replying 'I really don't care', which was met by applause by some non-Anglo writers. Platini did deflect a question about misbehaving rich stars by alluding to his plan to ban insolvent clubs from UEFA competitions.
"What annoys me are the clubs who pay these high salaries when they don’t have the money," he made a point of telling the hall.

Platini had started the press conference by referring to the continued uncertainly over the host nations' suitability in many eyes. "We are working on it...these things will develop," he semi-reassured the gathered media, whose experience of snowbound Warsaw has probably been a shock after the effortless charm of Vienna in the summer of 2008.
After many deadlines, the eight venues are now at last "final" according to Platini, but one journalist still asked if Krakow, with its tourist infrastructure, might not yet replace one of the Ukrainian venues: The UEFA President said that was a matter for the national associations.

The spread of stadia still looks daunting. In the media guide, train journey times are listed with the transfer between Gdansk and Donetsk taking a whopping 30hours at best...

Then came the question of extra referees, with Platini defending his preference for more referees over more use of cameras.

"I'm really a fan of the human method (of refereeing) rather than the technological method," he explained, adding he didn't want to let cameras run the officiating and noting that basketball had added extra officials over time.

This led inevitably to Thierry Henry and Platini was quick to defend the referee in question from opprobrium:

"
The ref could not see a hand," he said. "It was a problem of refereeing rather than the referee – he is not to blame, though you could all see it on television."

A rematch between the French and Irish in the qualifiers is one he would welcome, however. "Yes, I would love that," Platini smiled.

In reality that would not produce anything like the sort of tension which led UEFA to extraordinarily add two political caveats to tomorrow's draw: Old enemies Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot meet each other and neither can Georgia and Russia, following their military fracas two years ago.

The introduction of what he called "geopolitics" into football was interesting. Russia's looming presence as former guardian of Ukraine and the controller of Europe's gas supplies has allegedly been the reason Ukraine kept its hosting prize when it looks in no shape to be ready in time.

"To avoid political problems, we don't want to mix sport up with politics," explained Platini, in self-conscious equivocation. What was that draw caveat if not political then?
Platini has a lot on his plate all right, but seems well able to manage.

Shortly having taken over the job from Lennart Johansson, Platini confessed,

"I quickly realised I was dealing with different mindsets and different philosophies, from Siberia all the way to Portugal."

53 nations' coaches will assemble tomorrow in the Palace of Culture and Science, although Italy's Marcello Lippi will apparently not be there because he wants to watch Serie A games.

Unusually, some qualifiers will be played on Fri/Tues instead of Sat/Weds for 2012, but otherwise the format is familiar with six graded pots of teams to select six groups of six and three of five. The nine group winners and best runners-up qualify automatically and the remaining eight runners-up have playoffs to decide four teams to go through. Poland and Ukraine qualify automatically as hosts.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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