Continuing with our series on the greatest footballers of all time, here’s No. 10 on our list.
No. 10 - Michel Platini
Long before an idealistic little Frenchman took charge of Europe’s principal football governing body, convincing the UEFA to bring in rather socialist ideas such as that of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) to ensure an even playing field for the clubs, , and long after the same man has played his inning at the high helm of affairs defining the future course of football in Europe, he would still be remembered as one of the greatest men to have ever stepped on a football pitch. We’re talking about a modern-day Mozart who would dazzle with his art on the pitch and the ball at his feet, leaving his markers for dead and scoring as if it was his solemn right to do so. The man in question is of course Michel Platini, an idol for an entire generation, including his famous protege Zinedine Zidane.
“When I was a kid and played with my friends, I always chose to be Platini. I would let my friends share between them the names of my other idols.”
- Zinedine Zidane
Born in the Lorraine region of France to Italian immigrants, Platini had football in his blood, with his father Aldo Platini having been a footballer himself who had served as director of AS Nancy for several years, the same club in the Lorraine neighborhood where a young Michel would begin his professional career. Before that, though, a failed medical scuppered Platini’s move to Metz due to what was suspected as a weak heart. However, he overcame the odds that surrounded his football dream and eventually signed professional terms with AS Nancy in 1972. The rest, as they say, is history, and Platini went on to rewrite the history books and carry the French national team for over a decade, establishing himself as the best footballer of his generation and winning an unheard-of three consecutive Ballon d’Or titles from 1983 to 1985.
Its wasn’t always so, of course. Having scored a hat-trick in a friendly for his first club Nancy, things looked rosy for the French prodigy, but were anything but. During a league game against Valenciennes he came under heavy conflagration by the opposition fans who threw objects and even spat at him as he was sitting on the bench; he then broke his leg in a training session just days later. A promising career seemed to be heading to a grinding halt, but fate had something else in store. As 1975 approached, Platini grew in stature, establishing himself at the fulcrum of the Nancy attack as they mounted their challenge for domestic honours, and even though military duty reduced Platini’s availability for domestic games, his flair, whenever available, was of paramount value to the club. He would eventually win his first trophy with his home club, the French Cup of 1978. A year later he left for what was then the most supported club in France – Saint Ettiene.
Having signed up Platini as a marquee player, Saint Etienne had one clear goal – to win the European Cup. And Platini was to be the base on which their title assault was to be built. Even though their new star glittered for everyone to see and conquered all and sundry in France over the next three years, beating the defenders at will and often forcing them into submission, the club failed to bring to fruition their long-cherished dream of winning the European Cup. Even the league triumph of 1981 that featured Platini as the protagonist was mere consolation both for Platini and Saint Etienne.
On the international level, Michel Platini was made captain of the French national side in the lead-up to the 1982 World Cup 1982. Despite having an inexperienced side that was far being the favourite, Platini and Battinson defied the odds and took France to the semi finals. Once there, they went down fighting to the West Germans, losing 5-4 on penalties after a 3-3 draw, in what was one of the greatest World Cup games of all time.
Fresh off his exploits both in France and in the 1982 World Cup, Platini moved to Italian giants Juventus and over the next few years became the focal point of arguably the greatest football club side in history that featured the likes of Scirea, Gentile, Cabarini, Tardelli, Boniek and Paolo Rossi besides himself. The next three years were the greatest of his career, which were highlighted by his three Ballon d’Or trophies. In the midst of a galaxy of stars, Platini was still a decisive factor for the club that conquered almost every trophy ever conceived in club football. In Platini’s own words, his journey that began with a club in Lorraine culminated in the largest and most successful club in the world at the time.
“I began by playing for the biggest club in the Lorraine region, went on to the biggest club in France and ended up with the biggest in the world.”
In the history of the European Championships, there isn’t a single player that made an impact quite like Platini did in 1984. As captain and the leading light in midfield, he forged an unconquerable partnership that would famously be nicknamed the ‘Magic Square’ alongside Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Luiz Fernandez. Of the 14 goals that the French scored, Platini contributed an incredible 9, a record that stands to this day, including two perfect hat-tricks featuring goals off either foot and a header. Platini lifted the trophy in Paris, beating Spain in the final, producing the ultimate climax in front of the country’s own supporters.
The following year would be even more eventful for Platini as his Juventus side reached another European Cup final, this time against Liverpool. But the potential crowning moment of his career was shattered into a graveyard minutes before the game as a section of the Heysel Stadium collapsed, killing 39 Juventus fans, after the Liverpool fans charged at them. As for the match itself, Platini scored the winner as Juventus won 1-0, after which Liverpool and indeed all English clubs were banned from European football. However, the disaster far outweighed everything of significance on the pitch for years at a stretch. Platini won one more Scudetto before he retired in the summer of 1987.
Michel Platini was not just a great footballer, but one of the earliest examples of the unity in diversity in the French culture – a son of Italian immigrants became a national hero that united thousands and affected many more, bringing to the fore the idea of a culturally inclusive France. His records continue to speak for themselves, still unchallenged to this day. His free-kicks and dead ball ability are still a part of football folklore. Platini wasn’t just a player, he was a football romantic who had ideals of playing beautiful and fair football. Those who were lucky enough to watch him play can continue to reminisce about his brilliance, while the rest of us can take delight in his achievements and his vision for the future.
The great Sir Bobby Charlton would summarize Platini’s grand abilities thus: ”What a playmaker. He could thread the ball through the eye of a needle as well as finish.”
And now, here’s a video of Platini’s exploits:
Here are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – David Beckham; No. 19 – Oliver Kahn; No. 18 – Jurgen Klinsmann; No. 17 – Luis Figo; No. 16 – Romario; No. 15 – Marco van Basten; No. 14 – Eusebio; No. 13 – Lionel Messi; No. 12 – Zico; No. 11 – Paolo Maldini
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: