World Cup Legends #4: Michel Platini
So you may now recognise him as the head of U.E.F.A. and the man that moved the Champions League from a Wednesday night to a Saturday night. What you may not know is that Platini, for 3 or 4 years, was the best player in the world. A fabulous midfield play-maker of the highest level, Platini could destroy teams on his own when he was in the mood. The French side of the early 1980′s was a fabulous flowing football machine that perhaps should have won a World Cup but for one problem. West Germany.
Both in 1982 and 1986, France got to the semi-finals of the World Cup and both times they failed to get past West Germany. In between those semi-final heartbreaks, the French had won Euro 84 on home soil and were one of the best sides in the world. Platini’s artistry on the ball saw his country achieve heights they hadn’t matched for nearly 50 years but they fell short when it really mattered. During this period the French midfield were known as the “magic square”.
The only real issue the French had was the lack of a top quality striker and the teams tactics were designed to allow Platini to switch from midfield play-maker to centre forward with ease. It seems odd these days, but it sometimes falls that a country simply miss a player of real ability in a particular position for years. England had problems with both full back positions in the last few years but it was probably the lack of a top quality striker that held the French back on the world stage.
Of course, psychologically, West Germany had the Indian sign over the French especially after the horrific Schumacher challenge on Patrick Battison in the 1982 semi-final and whilst they were 3-1 up in that game, in 1986, the Germans never let them have a sniff at goal and won 2-0. Platini would join the ranks of players who never managed to win the World Cup despite being probably the best player in the world and is also in a select band of players that scored in 3 different World Cups, 1978, 1982 and 1986.
Platini was such a beautiful player, he never looked rushed whenever he was in possession. World Class players always seem to have so much time on the ball, but that’s what separates them from the rest. They just have that something else that allows them to achieve more than their contemporaries. Platini, for a midfielder scored so many goals and is currently France’s second highest international goalscorer, with 41 which he looks likely to hang on to for some considerable time.
His club career as well saw him leave the confines of the French League, after playing with AS Nancy and St. Etienne, to join Juventus in 1982 and he continued to deliver excellence after a difficult first 5 months in Italy. Playing in tandem with the Polish maestro Zbigniew Boniek who also joined the same year, Juventus were a force of football throughout the mid-1980′s. Under a youthful Giovanni Trapattoni, Juventus challenged for titles both at home and abroad, all built on the abilities of Platini.
Ironically, when Zidane retired immediately after the 2006 World Cup, it reminded me of when Platini bowed out in 1987, still only 32. No fuss, no real reasons, they’d just had enough of the game. Yet for the last 15 years, Platini has climbed the ladder in Eurpean football since being involved in running the 1998 World Cup and has been head of UEFA for 3 years now. From the footballing king of Europe in the 1980′s to the ruler of European football is some ride, but Platini never turned away from hard-work and dedication. A true World Cup legend of the modern age.
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