Imagine if Sepp Blatter had never been FIFA president. It's not so hard, at least if you consider Michel Platini's version of events.
Platini had been joint-president of the 1998 World Cup French organizing committee and before the tournament, Sepp Blatter, then FIFA's general secretary, had approached him with a plan hatched by then-FIFA president Joao Havelange. Havelange wanted Platini as president with Blatter continuing as general secretary. The story is recounted in Platini's new book, Parlons Football, in which the Frenchman explains why he did not feel ready for the job then.
"It would not have been very practical," he wrote. "For one thing, in January 1998 I had the weight of the World Cup on my shoulders, but, above all, I didn't feel ready to take on such responsibility."
Instead, Blatter beat UEFA president Lennart Johansson in the 1998 FIFA election, and in 2002, Platini replaced Johansson as UEFA president. Back then, the master plan seemed that Platini would take over for Blatter at FIFA in 2011.
That was until Blatter decided to stay in his post, which he did unopposed and, as seems likely, will do so again in 2015.
FIFA, Platini wrote, now "runs as an electoral machine just for the purpose to keep one man there." He added in a recent interview with L'Equipe: "Sepp is no longer president of FIFA. He is FIFA, and I say that with all the respect I feel for him. [The likes of] Platini, Pele, Blatter, [Joao] Havelange, we must give way in the face of football. We should serve football, not the other way around."
This history lesson is relevant given the recent fallout following the publication of the 42-page report by Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of FIFA's ethics committee adjudicatory chamber, which declared that "assessment of the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process is therefore closed."
Reinhard Rauball, president of the German Football League (DFL), suggested earlier this month that if FIFA does not release Michael Garcia's full investigative report into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, then UEFA member associations might break away from FIFA.
"If this doesn't happen and the crisis is not resolved in a credible manner, you have to entertain the question of whether you are still in good hands with FIFA," Rauball told Kicker. "One option that would have to bear serious consideration is certainly that UEFA leaves FIFA."
This is legally possible, but will it actually happen? It's very unlikely. If UEFA were to pull away, it would send a signal to its member associations (each country's national football federations) that such a split is possible.
What, then, would stop the German FA or the Spanish FA from pulling out of UEFA? The timing of this is significant, too, because three months ago, on Aug. 1, a Memorandum of Understanding between UEFA and the European Clubs Association, which represents 214 clubs across 53 member associations, expired.
This bound the clubs into international football agreements so that now, in theory, any club or player could now refuse an international call-up and receive no sanction. Yet UEFA is in the power position, a power that was solidified last month when Platini signed an Agreement for Cooperation with the European Union in Brussels.
Together the plan, according to a statement released on UEFA's website, is to "demand a common effort from stakeholders in areas such as corruption, financial instability, human trafficking, doping, violence, racism and wider public security concerns all of which require a firm response to safeguard sporting ethics, promote good governance and ensure a positive future for sport."
FIFA, under pressure over the World Cup hosting process and facing claims of a whitewash over the ethics investigation, is not in a position to take on Platini, especially now he has the might of Brussels behind him. Platini has said that he wants to outlaw Third Party Ownership of which he warned that, "players concerned lose their contractual freedom, as the owners of their economic rights abuse the powers entrusted to them and secure lucrative financial deals at the players' expense. They are therefore deprived of their free will," and FIFA's dilemma is that if it does nothing, then Platini has another stick with which to beat it.
The problem with Third Party Ownership is not so much that it exists, but that it is almost impossible to prohibit. Blatter said in September that FIFA will take steps to ban TPO, but that will be easier said than done. There will be legal cases from national courts, not to mention the South American associations for whom such ownership set-ups are often the lifeblood of their players.
The worst-case scenario is that TPO is pushed underground and FIFA sets itself up for another fall. Amongst all of this is the end-game. Does Platini still want to replace Blatter as FIFA president when he decides to step down (most likely in 2019)? As one lawyer put it: "Why move to the emperor's palace when you are king in the strongest kingdom?"
At the moment, Platini is winning the political power game, and you would imagine he is enjoying watching Blatter sweat through one crisis after another. It's almost enough to make you forget that it was Platini, and not Blatter, who voted for Qatar in the first place.