Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Classy Platini shows how to win friends

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

Michel Platini had no peers as a player at his pinnacle with Juventus and France and now he is proving as adept a playmaker in football politics as President of Uefa. The ultimate prize of the Fifa Presidency surely awaits on the evidence of his weekend flying visit to Belfast.

He was here to keep a promise to the Co Antrim FA, pitching up at Belfast City Hall as chief guest at their 125th anniversary banquet and proving all of football is on his radar.

He landed in from London, having duly delivered the Champions League trophy to this year's Final host city and two hours later was sat beside the County Antrim Shield, charm personified, signing autographs, posing for photographs, listening politely to speeches he clearly hadn't a clue about and tucking into a good, old plate of champ.

Platini then wooed the audience with his own brief, accented speech; ribbing fellow guest Gerry Armstrong, praising the IFA's two 'Jeems', Shaw and Boyce, and name checking Cliftonville, Crusaders, Linfield, Glentoran and Ballymena. And then he was gone, for some shuteye before a 7.30am flight to Wales, leaving the City Hall in his thrall.

It spoke volumes for Platini that he came and for the Co Antrim FA's pull that they were able to parade such a figure. Significantly, he also viewed and endorsed the IFA's £25million redevelopment plans for Windsor and, with a Gallic shrug, wondered at the fuss over Government funding for the project that could yet land in the courts. "We can't build any stadium, anywhere, now without help from Governments," he observed.

When a man of his football stature speaks, our wee country should listen. Platini's Belfast visit was indeed a timely and diplomatic lesson, to all concerned, in how to win friends and influence people.

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