Election favorite Platini silent as FIFA crisis escalates

Updated Sep 18, 2015 at 11:20a ET

ST. JULIAN'S, Malta (AP) The hair is grayer, and the frame bulker than in his footballing prime. But the player with the ball at his feet, standing in the late afternoon sun on a field near the Mediterranean Sea, hardly required ''Platini'' emblazoned across his back for the selected onlookers at the private game to know it was the former France great in his comfort zone.

In his third term as UEFA president, Michel Platini still seems to prefer to do much of his talking on the pitch despite being the most powerful figure in European football and the favorite to be installed as Sepp Blatter's FIFA successor in February.

As FIFA was dragged further into the moral mire with the suspension of Secretary General Jerome Valcke on Thursday, Platini maintained months of silence on the tumult as UEFA's week-long gathering in Malta drew to a close on Friday. His renowned Gallic shrug met most questions about football politics when he emerged from the closed-doors meetings.

As Platini sat on Friday in a T-shirt and shorts sipping coffee with UEFA colleagues, shaded from the late summer heat near the hotel swimming pool, General Secretary Gianni Infantino was left – once again – to be peppered with questions about beleaguered FIFA.

''We played a football match here in Malta between the presidents and the secretary generals,'' Infantino said at the media conference to close a week of meetings. ''We agreed the one who loses the match should do the press conference.''

For all the attempted quips, the Italian administrator did address the departure of his opposite number at FIFA.

''We feel of course all very sad about the news coming on, almost on a daily basis (from FIFA),'' Infantino said.

The latest damaging episode unfolded Thursday after ticket sale agent Benny Alon, who has told journalists he had been a regular golf partner of Platini, alleged that Valcke had been prepared to profit personally from a deal for the black market trading of tickets to 2014 World Cup matches. Valcke denies having a deal or being offered money.

''We are disappointed about all this news,'' Infantino said. ''But on the other side I think there is a process now which has started of course which will lead to elections of a new FIFA president.''

The sudden resignation statement by Blatter, four days after being re-elected in May despite several FIFA allies being arrested, sparked the fresh poll scheduled for Feb. 26.

''Something needs to be done, will be done to restore FIFA's image,'' said Infantino, who sits on a panel exploring reforms intended to make the organization more transparent.

The 60-year-old Platini has declared his candidacy but is yet to detail what he would do in the job. He clearly enjoys support of his home confederation, though, unlike rival hopefuls Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan and Chung Mong-joon of South Korea.

''Michel of course has administrative abilities and he has opinions how to run football that are good and healthy,'' Football Association of Iceland President Geir Thorsteinsson told The Associated Press. ''He has brought all the football family together. There is great unity in Europe.

''At the same time in UEFA we have great respect for one of the former top players in the world. If you can have that in one person you cannot ask for anything else.''

Thorsteinsson's endorsement came before Platini tells him – or anyone else – how he would rebuild the discredited FIFA institution.

The criticism coming from Chung and Prince Ali is that Platini should not be entrusted with helping FIFA make a clean break from its tainted Blatter era given that he helped the 79-year-old president first get elected in 1998. Only when Blatter reneged on a 2011 promise not to seek a fifth term did Platini turn on the incumbent.

''Michel Platini wouldn't be the first person who on the road to power has changed his policies when he gets power,'' English Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn said ahead of the Malta meetings.

''We feel he has got the right experience, the right views on football and that FIFA is going to get reformed anyway to make him the best leader of the game.''

Leading the global game, though, would require a hands-on president. And by swapping Nyon for Zurich in Switzerland, Platini would be leaving a vibrant UEFA, with its globally adored Champions League, for a governing body requiring a top-to-bottom overhaul while its gravest crisis is still springing new scandals.

''UEFA is already a stabilized and successful organization concentrated on football,'' UEFA executive committee member Frantisek Laurinec of Slovakia told the AP. ''In FIFA there is more politics. It's a challenge.''

Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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