Legend of Calcio: Michel Platini
Grace, class, style. Three attributes that are usually reserved for not just the best footballers on the planet, but those athletes who seem to be gifted that have the ability to conjure moments of sporting purity that people remember for life. Footballers that not only achieve, but achieve beautifully.
Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Gianni Rivera, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Baggio. Another common trait with these sort of players, especially the majority of those listed, is the magical number 10, Il dieci long associated with the best player on the pitch – a tradition somewhat lost in today’s game. Another name enters that list, and stands a good chance of being head and shoulders above most of it.
Michel Platini was born in Joef,a small commune in the north east of France, and by 17, was involved in the Nancy reserve side. The Frenchman, blessed with immaculate passing skills and an unerring ability to be able to float pass players as if they weren’t there, was quickly noticed at the side, and quickly drafted into the first team.
He signed his first professional contract in 1976, and remained with Nancy for another three years, before moving St Etienne, where he had a mixed time, continuing to score and create goals in abundance, but the French side remained on the wrong side of finals often, losing out on the French Cup to Bastia and Paris St Germain at the final hurdle in 1981 and 1982.
After that, however, he moved to Juventus, and became the best player in the world. Combining with Zbigniew Boniek at the Turin side, the Frenchman quickly became an integral part of the Bianconeri outfit that dominated the early part of the 1980’s, building on the solid foundation built from the impenetrable defence of Scirera and Gentile, and the ever-present Zoff in goal.
Often, Platini would appear to play with visors around his neck, constantly aware of those around him instantly and seeming to have decided on where to pass the ball before he had received it. Not possessed with electric pace as such, but the Frenchman’s vision and poise allowed him to escape defenders with ease.
During this time, Juventus and Platini dominated domestically and continentally, winning the Scudetto in 1984 and 1986, as well as fitting the European Cup in between, the triumph unfortunately lost against the great tragedy of Heysel. Platini scored the only goal of the game against the greatest side of that decade – Liverpool. Platini’s manic celebrations will be remembered as a support act to the horrible events of that evening.
Before Lionel Messi dominated plaudits the world over, Platini was the only footballer to record a hat-trick of Golden Ball’s – recording the feat from 1983 through to 1985. Critics would point to the prevention of non-European players being eligible as to the reason why the Frenchman dominated the award, but Diego Maradona – arguably the player who would be competing with Platini for the prize didn’t really blow up until his World Cup winning exploits of 1986, meaning the Juventus man was indisputably the best player on the planet without competition.
Blessed with the predatory instincts of an in form striker, Platini would be seen collecting the ball near the half way line, laying off to a team mate, before making a diagonal run into space, reminiscent of many a number nine down the years.
Like Frank Lampard for Chelsea, Platini would regularly top score for his club (a hat-trick of Capocanonneire awards between 1983 and 1985 is testament to that), but unlike the Englishman, would also repeat it for his country – top scoring in the 1984 European Championship and leading France to glory in that tournament. Inevitably, the Balon D’or came that year – capping off a wonderful 12 months for Platini.
An extraordinary player, Platini will be fondly remembered by both Juventus and Les Bleus fans for his silky skills, leadership by example and exorbitant passing range. Blessed with an intelligence and wit not usually attributed to a footballer, Platini would dominate press conferences, casually smoking a cigarette, delivering soundbite after soundbite to the adoring press. It is no surprise for those that remember Platini’s character as a player to see him now in a position of diplomacy and control, a role that in some way or another Platini has always held on the pitch.
Platini left the game as a great in 1987 after leading his French side to the semi finals of the 1986 World Cup and seeing Napoli race to the Scudetto, Platini must have felt very symbolic, handing his role as the best in the world to another extraordinary player plying their trade in Italy; Diego Maradona.
Platini has since managed France, as well as holding the honor of being largely responsible for the level of success that France ’98 enjoyed. He is now the President of Uefa, on course for the eventual role as the most powerful man in football – the head of FIFA. For a man who controlled every game he played as a professional, it is fitting that he will control the game after he retires too. Michel Platini: the man who controlled the beautiful game, beautifully.