Thursday, August 30, 2007

Macabre and Just Plain Wrong

I want to like Michel Platini, I really do. He's the first European superstar I ever really followed. I still believe the France-Brazil quarterfinal match in the 1986 World Cup is the greatest game of football ever played, and despite the penalty miss, he was the star.

But really, what kind of an asshole would use the death of Antonio Puerta to launch the following message (quoted from Reuters)?

"These accidents on the pitch (i.e. Puerta's death - AG) will probably bring up the problem of the calendar," Platini told reporters on Thursday. "We all want to play less but we, at UEFA, are the first to play more Champions League matches, the associations have created the League Cup. The system is made so that the players play more and more."

Er, Michel? The last time anyone tinkered with the Champions League, it was to remove four matches. As far as I know, Portugal is the only country that has introduced a new League Cup recently (Denmark brought one in last year, but given that it consists of 45 minute matches I think we can discount any fatigue effects it may have). The only thing that has increased lately are qualifying matches for major international tournaments, due to the fissile nature of Europe's former multi-national entities like Yugoslavia and the USSR.

Moreover, when Puerta collapsed, he was playing in only his third competitve match of the season. These matches were spaced well apart - the Supercopa on the 12th and 19th of August, and the Getafe match on the 25th. He did not play in any international tournaments during the summer. Neither, by the way did Chaswe Nsofwa, a Zambian international playing in Israel who suffered a heart attack and died during a training session yesterday, nor did 16 year-old Walsall player Anton Reid, who dies in similar circumstances nine days ago, and - just so we're being inclusive - neither did Leicester's Clive Clarke, who collapsed during a League Cup match Tuesday. So the inference about fixture congestion is - shall we say - not empirically-driven.

So what prompted this spectacularly inaccurate outburst? We all know that Platini's long-term goal is to reign in the perceived power of major clubs in part by changing the organization of tournaments like the Champions League. Possibly, his agenda may also include the revival of his stillborn 2000 plan (back when he was working for Sepp Blatter) to harmonize the international playing schedule by - get this - forcing all national leagues to reduce to 18 teams and to have national cups (including the FA Cup) end in November.

Though I don't agree with much of this, I suppose Platini's got a right to air his views and argue his corner before the UEFA membership. But draping spurious arguments over Puerta's coffin and using it as a prop is not just over the top but quite creepy.

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