Michel Platini is for many the much-anticipated anti-Blatter – the man who will eventually replace FIFA president Sepp Blatter and usher in a new era of far-sighted, transparent administration.
He is, of course, destined to fail because soccer’s world governing body – like the International Olympic Committee – is an organization that has a way of sucking the morality out of people.
Besides, Platini, the former French national team stalwart who is president of the sport’s European governing body, UEFA, has found it increasingly difficult to avoid controversy.
On the eve of Friday’s 2014 World Cup draw in Brazil, Platini fended off suggestions of favouritism stemming from a late procedural change that will use a lottery to decide which unseeded European team goes into a pool of two highly ranked European and South American teams – instead of simply moving France, the lowest-ranked European qualifier, into that tougher draw.
“I said I would go out of the [FIFA ruling board] meeting,” explained Platini, who also serves as a FIFA vice-president, “and they said: ‘No, there is one proposal and everybody will accept.’ I am not the only Frenchman in FIFA.”
Platini has also been at the centre of the controversial decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup, and is considered to be a primary supporter of the much-criticized bid.
But that’s all inside-baseball stuff. What piqued the imagination of soccer types Thursday – and, who knows, given the controversy surrounding Platini it might have been a deflective manoeuvre – was the altogether nonsensical notion of instituting a system of “sin bins” for players awarded yellow cards during games.
It was less hockey than rugby that was on Platini’s mind when he made the suggestion in an interview with the Spanish newspaper AS.
“I would do it like rugby, where the perpetrator would be punished by being off the pitch for 10 or 15 minutes,” Platini said. “That means the team they are facing would benefit in the same match and it would be instead of a ban for an accumulation of cards against another side later in the season.”
Platini has shown foresight when it comes to rules changes, but in this case, he’s far offside.
Part of soccer’s inherent strength is, on the field, it is largely unadorned, free of the gimmickry and the need for absolute certainty that is ruining North American-based professional sports. It has become the Continent of Instant Replay, happy to put up with stoppages in play so that a ball can be placed on the 25-yard line instead of the 26-yard line.
Soccer is a game of buildup and flow, where unlike most sports the very best, most-talented players do not necessarily have the greatest time of possession.
It’s why people hate the sport and why they love it.
It is, in short, fine as it is.
Goal-line technology? That’s an acceptable nod. If Platini wants a hobby-horse, better he focus on gambling and match-fixing.
The system of compounding cards introduces a major consideration for any manager or head coach setting a lineup, and in tournaments especially the idea a player can miss a full game provides ample food for thought for any would-be offender.
A “sin bin” is too disruptive and would do little to eliminate foul play late in, say, a one-sided game. Plus, a system of “carding” allows for out-of-match appeals and rescinding of cards – a logical way of dealing with a poor decision made by an official. Indeed, there is an element of sober second-thought to the process that ought to be the envy of other sports.
What’s next in Platini’s world? Line changes? Unlimited substitutions?
Soccer doesn’t need a tinkerer; leave that to other sports held hostage by television, sports with less of a sense of self and in constant need of reinvention to hold everybody’s attention.
Platini’s real battles remain off the pitch. All else is just noise; best he not contribute to it.
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