'Big Picture' Platini to take on the transfer market?

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

MONTE CARLO -- The interesting thing about Michel Platini is that he's not a details guy. If his Maker hadn't given him enough talent to become one of the greatest footballers of his generation, odds are Platini would not have worked his way up the corporate ladder in some major organization, going from middle management to chief executive.

Platini doesn't lack for ideas. Far from it. He has plenty. It's just that sometimes he speaks too freely without fully thinking things through. Which, in many ways, makes him far more honest than most men in his position. Yet at the same time, it can also leave those around him nonplussed and scrambling to recover.

It happened again Friday morning in Monaco. Asked about Gareth Bale's imminent big-money transfer to Real Madrid, he said such transfers were like "robbery."

Huh? Did he mean that Real Madrid robbed Spurs blind because Bale is actually worth far more? Or, indeed, the opposite: Did Tottenham just rob Madrid because the Welshman is worth less than that?

Harold Cunningham/Getty ImagesMichel Platini often finds his footballing past at odds with his corporate present. His views on transfers are no different.

Neither. It's the idea of transferring players themselves, in Platini's mind, that is "robbery." He then explained how he never switched clubs for a fee as a player because he simply changed clubs when his contract expired. (Not that difficult to do given that he switched clubs only twice and retired before he turned 32.) And, he said, players aren't footballers these days, they are products, with a whole pile of people trying to make money off them. And, most of all, he said there is something unhealthy about transfers and the transfer window.

Realizing that he sort of left the whole room hanging, he came back to the point a few minutes later. "Sorry, sometimes it's Michel Platini who is speaking, not the UEFA president," he said. "Maybe 'robbery' is too strong a word."

The implication was obvious. Platini the footballer is uncomfortable with the world of transfers, agents and fees. Platini the president evidently realizes that when you oversee the game in Europe, calling the transfer market a "robbery" and "unhealthy" is bound to send shock waves. It suggests that you're going to set out to reform it: otherwise, what's the point of being UEFA president?

From there, his thoughts moved to the transfer window, which runs for about three months. That, Platini said, is "too long." Plus, he added, clubs want to do their business before the start of their domestic leagues. "This window is too long and we will have to shorten it," he said.

How? He said he is going to ask FIFA about it and proposed having all European leagues start at the same time.

Again, he was talking off the cuff. Platini did concede that leagues in other parts of the world play at different times, meaning that a global transfer window might be unworkable. But the reality is that having the European leagues start at the same time is equally difficult. A bunch of European leagues, including Norway, Sweden and Ireland, play throughout the summer. And even those with more traditional schedules vary greatly. Switzerland kicked off this year on July 13, Italy on Aug. 25, a full six weeks later ... and those are neighboring countries.

Is there some scenario where the European league schedules -- at least those that play in the winter -- might be harmonized? Sure. But you'd need to put a lot of thought into it and come up with a coherent plan first. Making Spain, Portugal and Italy play in early August is economically suicidal (everyone is on vacation) and logistically difficult (it's extremely hot, so you'd have to play at night, which isn't great for traveling supporters).

You may have your own views on whether the transfer window needs to be curtailed or whether the current transfer system is "unhealthy." But from where I sit, things are fine the way they are.

Nobody is forcing clubs to do their transfer business late. Having a long window, stretching into preseason or even the season itself, gives you a better opportunity to evaluate your squad. All shortening the window will do is push clubs to start negotiating for players before the window even opens, and that means working to sign guys before the previous season is even over (not that it doesn't happen already, but it would just be on a bigger scale).

Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

As for the transfer market itself, is it "unhealthy"? True, some players are like mini-corporations, with a crew of advisers following them around and a range of interests involved. And, yes, some agents and club officials are downright corrupt, taking exaggerated commissions, slipping backhanders and demanding bribes. In some cases, clubs are used to launder money.

But corruption and money-laundering are illegal, per se. It's not the transfer system that is "unhealthy," but rather the people committing crimes when they transfer players who are the problem. As for the overhyped, overcommercialized billboard players, when you think about it, they're a tiny minority. And, frankly, they're entitled to try to make a buck off their image during their playing career, just like musicians, actors and other celebrities.

Still, if Platini has proposals to make, it's worth hearing them out and considering them. The problem, I suspect, is that he's such a "big picture" guy that he hasn't yet considered the details or the implications of what he's saying.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing; after all, these are debates that the game ought to be having. But sometimes, when you lead an institution like UEFA, it's best to think everything through and come up with a coherent plan rather than chucking out an idea and leaving it to others to make it work. Heck, look at Financial Fair Play. Originally it was all about debt and his concerns about European clubs being mortgaged to the hilt. Then it became about what percentage of its turnover a club spends on wages. And now, finally, we have the current incarnation with its "monitoring periods" and "acceptable loss deviations" from "break even."

It's good to have a UEFA president who is open to change and who seems willing to ask tough questions about the state of the game. Sometimes, though, it's a good idea to figure out what road you'll take to get to a particular place and what the implications of that journey are and what things will be like when you arrive, before announcing you want to go there.


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