Blatter backs Platini to succeed Jonansson

January 20, 2007

MOSCOW, Jan 20 (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has given his moral support to Michel Platini in the race to become UEFA president against incumbent Lennart Johansson.

Former France captain Platini, 51, is standing against the 77-year-old Swede for the presidency at next week's UEFA Congress in Duesseldorf, Germany.

'As a FIFA president I have nothing to say about this (UEFA) election, but if you ask me about my personal feelings I don't have to hide them,' Blatter told a news conference on Saturday.

'I have a clear sympathy to a man who has accompanied me for 8-1/2 years as FIFA president in most of my business travel,' said Blatter, calling Platini 'my friend'.

Johansson, UEFA president since 1990, had said he hoped Blatter would stay away from actively supporting Platini but the Swiss maintained he had not broken any rules.

'Since 1998 Platini has been my personal adviser and he is my friend,' said Blatter. 'He has my sympathy, but it is not a direct intervention.'

The 70-year-old Swiss, who on Saturday confirmed his plans to stand for re-election as FIFA president in May, also said he wanted to make sure soccer continued to be 'a beautiful game'.

'We must maintain the social and cultural part of our football family and not force football to become just the economic tool to make money,' said Blatter.

MOSCOW VISIT

Blatter and Platini were in Moscow for the opening of an annual indoor tournament involving all 15 former Soviet republics.

Local media reported that Platini, a member of the UEFA and FIFA executive committees, visited the Russian capital to gain support from Eastern European soccer chiefs before the deciding vote of UEFA's 52 member associations.

Platini declined to face the media in Moscow.

However, Blatter said it was just a coincidence that the Frenchman was in Russia on the eve of the election.

'I have been coming here since 1993 and from 1999 Platini has always accompanied the FIFA president to this tournament,' said Blatter.

'This tournament has been held for 15 years and always at the same time in January, so it is a pure coincidence that this year it is being held just before the UEFA elections.'

Vitaly Mutko, president of the Russian Football Union (RFU), when asked which candidate he would support, said:

'We'll have an (RFU) executive board meeting on Monday when we'll make a decision in regards of the UEFA presidency.'