A Tribute To...Michel Platini

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IAugust 21, 2008

Welcome to the sixth in the "A Tribute To..." series. Today's tribute is to the man who inspired a nation and was the main flag-bearer of French football in the 1980s: Michel Platini.

Throughout footballing history, few players have ever been able to pass a ball as well as Platini, and fewer still could strike a free-kick like him. Despite playing most of his career in midfield, Platini was a deadly finisher as well. He could score from four yards out or 40 yards out.

Born June 21, 1955, Michel Francois Platini was the son of former French footballer and coach Aldo Platini. It was natural, then, that he would go onto to become a successful player himself. But no-one could have forseen just how successful he was to become.

His career didn't get off to the best start, however. While playing for his youth side, AS Joeuf, Platini had a number of trials with different clubs, most notably his boyhood team, Metz.

However, a mixture of bad luck, poor performances, injuries and breathing difficulties thwarted his chances every time he was scouted. At just 16 he was told he would never play for Metz due to his breathing difficulties and weak heart.

In September, 1972, at 17 years of age, Platini joined AS Nancy. A series of good performances in the reserve team put him in with a chance of a a first-team place. However, an injury in another reserve game cruelly sidelined him for much of the season.

It was in May of 1973 when Platini finally made his first team debut. He was in and out of the team for the remainder of the season. The start of the following season saw Platini begin to be picked more regularly, however.

But his bad luck returned in March 1974 when he broke his arm in a match. He missed the rest of the season. Without the youthful but talented Platini able to help them, Nancy were relegated from Ligue 1.

The following season was a brighter one, however. With Platini back to full fitness and starting to pick up experience to add to his extraordinary talent, Nancy won promotion back to Ligue 1 with ease, finishing first and giving Platini his first taste of silverware, albeit a second tier trophy.

Platini's first season back in the top tier of French football was interrupted by national service, and yet more injuries. Despite this, Platini continued to put in fantastic performances, and his dead-ball skills were becoming one of the most feared weapons in France.

It was in 1976 that Platini was first called up to France's first team squad. He made his debut on March 27, 1976, scoring one of his deadly free-kicks one the way to a 2-2 draw with Czechoslovakia.

He was a member of the France squad that went to the Montreal Olympics later that year, making it to the quarter-finals. His year of success wasn't over yet though. Despite his limited appearances for Nancy, Platini won the French Footballer of the Year award, at just 21 years of age.

1977 saw more individual success for the young Platini, as he won the French Footballer of the Year award for the second year running, becoming only the third person in history to complete that feat. He also came third in the voting for European Player of the Year.

The following year, Platini inspired Nancy, a constant relegation threatened team, to the French Cup, and again to Ligue 1 survival. Platini was hoping he could help his country in the World Cup as much as he had helped his club.

In the preceding months of the World Cup, Platini and France faced Italy. Platini was hugely impressive in this match, beating one of the greatest 'keepers of all time, Dino Zoff, with two direct free-kicks.

He impressed so much that Italy adapted their game plan for when they faced France in the World Cup. They made sure to mark Platini out of the game, and without the inspirational spark of the frenchman, "Les Blues" failed to make it past the first round.

The French public made Platini their scapegoat. For the season that followed he was booed by fans wherever he went with Nancy, sometimes even by Nancy fans themselves.

Despite this, Platini, at just 23, was named captain of the French side.

In 1979, Platini's contract at Nancy expired and he moved to St. Etienne. Still trying to shake off the scapegoat tag, Platini helped St. Etienne to the Ligue 1 title in 1981, and two successive, but ultimately unsuccessful, French Cup finals.

In 1982, after three years at St. Etienne, Platini moved from France to Italy and, more specifically, Turin to play for Juventus.

The 1982 World Cup was a more successful one for Platini's France. They surprised everyone by reaching the semi-finals, only narrowly losing to West Germany on penalties. This success had finally wiped the previous World Cup from the memories of the players and fans.

Despite a tough start to his Juventus career, it was here that Platini would experience his best days. In his first season at the club he helped them to success in the Italian Cup, and a Coppa Super Clubs winners medal. He also guided them to a European Cup final, in which they were just pipped to the post by Hamburg.

It was an equally successful year individually for Platini. He was the top scorer in the Italian Championships and was voted European Footballer of the Year.

However, it was 1984 that will stand out as Platini's finest hour. At club level he became the first French player to win the Cup Winners' Cup, also triumphing in the European Super Cup and helping Juventus to a Serie A title. He was the league's top scorer for the second consecutive year.

Despite this, it was internationally where he made his biggest impact. More specifically, the 1984 European Championships. He was the stand-out performer of the tournament, dominating all who came before him.

He scored nine goals, including two perfect hat-tricks. Those nine goals were enough to win him the Golden Boot award for the tournament, and that total remains the most amount of goals scored in the European Championships by any individual.

He was named Player of the Tournament as he guided France to their first major international title with a 2-0 win over Spain in the final. He was, unsurprisingly, voted European Footballer of the Year for the second year in a row.

1985 was a season of mixed emotions for Platini. Again he achieved huge success, finishing top scorer in the Italian League for the third consecutive season, and winning the Ballon d'Or for the third successive season as well.

With Juventus he won the World Club Championships and the European Cup. However, his season was overshadowed by what took place in the European Cup final against Liverpool. It was the day of the tragic Heysel disaster in which 39 people were killed and a further 600 injured.

Platini scored the only goal of the game in Juventus' win, but was not fully aware of what had transpired, nor the magnitude of the disaster.

In 1986 he helped Juventus to a second Serie A title during his time there. In the World Cup of that same year, Platini again inspired his country to a semi-final, but again they couldn't make it past that stage.

In 1987, aged 32, Platini announced his retirement from football. In his club career he amassed a total of 312 goals in 580 appearances, and he won 72 caps for France, including 49 as captain, scoring 41 goals, then a French record. Not bad statistics for a midfielder.

He has since managed France and gone on to become UEFA President. While he has not endeared himself to fans while he has held this position, he will always be fondly remembered for his legendary performances as a player. French football will never forget "The Platini Era", and nor will World Football. This has been a tribute to Michel Platini.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.


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