Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini indicted for fraud in Switzerland

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GENEVA — Former FIFA officials Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were charged with fraud and other offenses by Swiss prosecutors on Tuesday after a six-year investigation into a controversial $2 million payment.

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The 85-year-old Blatter and 66-year-old Platini now face a trial within months at federal criminal court in Bellinzona. They could be jailed for several years if found guilty.

“This payment damaged FIFA’s assets and unlawfully enriched Platini,” Swiss federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The case was opened in September 2015 and ousted Blatter ahead of schedule as FIFA president. It also ended then-UEFA president Platini’s campaign to succeed his former mentor.

Swiss cases often take years to reach a conclusion.

The case centers on Platini’s written request to FIFA in January 2011 to be paid backdated additional salary for working as a presidential adviser in Blatter’s first term, from 1998-2002.

Blatter authorized FIFA to make the payment within weeks. He was preparing to campaign for re-election in a contest against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, where Platini’s influence with European voters was seen as a key factor.

“The evidence gathered by the (attorney general’s office) has corroborated that this payment to Platini was made without a legal basis,” prosecutors said.

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Both Blatter and Platini have long denied wrongdoing and cited a verbal agreement they had made, now more than 20 years ago, for the money to be paid.

Blatter has been charged with fraud, mismanagement, misappropriation of FIFA funds and forgery of a document. Platini has been charged with fraud, misappropriation, forgery and as an accomplice to Blatter’s alleged mismanagement.

Fraud and forgery charges can be punished with jail sentences of up to five years.

“I view the proceedings at the federal criminal court with optimism – and hope that, with this, this story will come to an end and all the facts will be worked through cleanly,” Blatter said in a statement.

Platini, a French soccer great, was not placed under formal investigation until last year, and months later the more serious allegation of fraud was included against both men.

Prosecutors had opened criminal proceedings against Blatter in September 2015 ahead of a police raid at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on the day he and Platini attended a meeting of the soccer body’s executive committee.

That came four months after a sweeping U.S. Department of Justice corruption investigation into world soccer was revealed with early-morning arrests of officials from the Americas at luxury hotels in Zurich.

In the fallout of those May 2015 hotel raids, and only days after being elected FIFA president for a fifth time, Blatter announced his plan to resign and call another vote to find a successor.

Platini had long been the expected FIFA heir but his campaign was derailed by the police visit to FIFA’s offices even though he was not yet a suspect.

The FIFA ethics committee soon suspended both men for several weeks before banning each for six years.

Platini’s ban was later reduced to four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on appeal, and he was cleared to return to soccer duty in October 2019. He had been linked to seeking a seat on the executive board of FIFPRO, the global group of soccer player unions.

Blatter has been in poor health and a final round of questioning by Swiss investigators was delayed until August.

After undergoing heart surgery last December, Blatter spent a week in an induced coma.

Blatter also faces a separate criminal proceeding related to authorizing a $1 million FIFA payment to Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 into the control of then-FIFA vice president Jack Warner. Two former FIFA officials are also suspects in that investigation.

The Swiss investigations of Blatter, and later Platini, were refocused after prosecutor Thomas Hildbrand joined the case following turmoil in the attorney general’s office. The former lead prosecutor, Olivier Thormann, left the federal office in late-2018 after being cleared of a complaint of misconduct in the investigation.

Hildbrand, who is from the same hometown as Blatter, was then brought on to the investigation team with the reputation of having led a previous high-profile case tied to FIFA: the 2001 financial collapse of World Cup marketing agency ISL. Blatter’s lawyers failed in court to have Hildbrand removed from the current case.

The attorney general who was overseeing FIFA investigations in Switzerland, Michael Lauber, resigned last year because of misconduct. He was found to have misled an internal investigation into his undeclared meetings with current FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Infantino was elected to lead FIFA in 2016 after stepping in to be UEFA’s emergency election candidate when Platini was suspended and then banned.

Infantino says biennial World Cups can bring youth back to soccer

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino told European football leaders that his governing body was not the “enemy of football” while saying biennial World Cups were needed to keep youngsters interested in the sport at a time when they are increasingly “running after” other activities.

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The Associated Press obtained a recording of Infantino speaking Tuesday during a meeting that was closed to the media, where UEFA member associations also voiced a stream of opposition to his plans to double the frequency of World Cups.

Infantino was challenged by presidents of national federations on the damage that would be caused to not only club competitions but also national teams if FIFA radically overhauls the international game despite European opposition.

But Infantino pitched the reshaping of world football as being necessary to safeguard the future of the sport.

“I believe as well that the enemy of football is not the World Cup or is not FIFA but it is other activities that young boys and young girls are running after today,” Infantino said in closing remarks to the meeting that lasted more than an hour. “And we need to see how jointly and together we can bring them back to be interested in football. And we want to, as far as I’m concerned, do this all together as we have always been doing in the last few years.”

Infantino did not specify what those “other activities” were. He did not respond to a phone call from the AP seeking comment and FIFA had no immediate comment expanding on the remarks ahead of a council meeting on Wednesday.

Keeping younger viewers interested in watching 90-minute matches has increasingly become a challenge, especially given the rise of gaming. Infantino’s comments come amid a dispute with EA Sports, the maker of the FIFA video game, over the future of the product but FIFA itself still embraces e-sports.

The International Olympic Committee also at the weekend denounced FIFA’s attempt to remodel the calendar which could result in having a men’s or women’s World Cup every year. The IOC has started to embrace sports seen as more appealing to youngsters, with skateboarding debuting at the recent Tokyo Olympics and the the 2024 Paris Games introducing the break dance sport.

FIFA’s plans could have a significant impact on the Olympics where the women’s football competition features no age restrictions unlike the men’s event.

“I believe we can still find ways to develop football further,” Infantino told the meeting with UEFA. “The World Cup is huge. It’s a big, big competition that everyone benefits from the World Cup and that we need to be very careful on what we do with the World Cup.”

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that more than a dozen European nations told UEFA they would consider quitting FIFA over biennial World Cups.

“I’m seriously seriously asking you and FIFA not to push for a vote because that could have terrible consequences for football,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told Infantino on the call.

“I don’t think it would be wise to go for a vote on a matter like that. Not just because there will be severe consequences that we will have to take but also because the stakeholders like clubs and leagues don’t have a voting right and this idea is detrimental to their existence.”

Leaders from the Finnish, Italian, Germany, Portuguese, Romanian, Scottish, Spanish and Swiss federations told Infantino they want to continue having the World Cup every four years.

They cited the impact on player welfare of having more frequent tournaments, the pitfalls of having only one block of qualifiers across October and November, and the potential damage caused to the growing profile of the women’s game by having more men’s competitions.

“We will not go ahead as far as I’m concerned with any proposal if anyone was to be harmed,” Infantino told the virtual meeting with UEFA.

But Infantino also said it wasn’t only the views of UEFA, which features 55 member associations, that counted. Infantino has been pushing to secure approval in December for holding World Cups every two years.

“We cannot just shape new proposals based on feedback from from Europe,” he said. “We have to respect the opinions of everyone.”

Tiago Craveiro, the general secretary of the Portuguese federation, proposed that FIFA explores the possibility of not allowing teams to compete in consecutive editions if it pushed ahead with biennial World Cups.

“I welcome as well the idea of Thiago to say, well, we need more participation and maybe there is a way of doing that by having two World Cups, but not with the same teams participating,” Infantino said. “I don’t know. This is something that the technical people will study, but this is certainly something that we have to look into.”

At one point Ceferin pushed Infantino to answer specific questions directed at him.

No country spoke in favor of the plans during the call with Infantino, who was general secretary of UEFA before being elected FIFA president in 2016 in the fallout from the scandals that led to Sepp Blatter and his expected successor Michel Platini being banned from the sport.

“We trusted you to create an organization that transcends the divisions and brings unity,” Razvan Burleanu, a Romanian member of the FIFA Council, said to Infantino.

UEFA president Ceferin ‘would not support’ another multi-host Euros

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has revealed that he “would not support” staging another European Championship in multiple countries across the continent, as EURO 2020 has been, as “it is not correct” and “too challenging” that some teams (and their fans) traveled as few as 600 miles between games, while others traversed over 6,000.

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To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the tournament, EURO 2020 was originally set to be played in 13 different cities, but that number was reduced to 12 after plans to build a new national stadium in Brussels were abandoned, and again down to 11 after Dublin couldn’t guarantee that fans would be allowed inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, EURO 2020 games were played in London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, St Petersburg, Seville, Munich, Baku, Rome, Bucharest and Budapest — quotes from the BBC:

“I would not support it anymore.

In a way, it is not correct that some teams have to travel more than [6,000 miles] while others have to only travel [600 miles].

“It is not fair to fans, who had to be in Rome one day and in Baku over the next few, which is a four-and-a-half-hour flight.

“We had to travel a lot, into countries with different jurisdictions, different currencies, countries in the European Union and non-EU, so it was not easy.

“It was a format that was decided before I came [into post] and I respect it. It is an interesting idea but it is hard to implement and I don’t think we will do it again.”

EURO 2024 will be played, in its entirety, in Germany.

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It should be noted that, while Ceferin only now (48 hours ahead of the final) admits the logistics of EURO 2020 were far from ideal for teams and their fans, the majority of the outside world (i.e., anyone not set to profit off every off of nearly every game being played inside stadiums with a capacity of more than 50,000) criticized UEFA for those very reasons when the format was announced in 2014.

It’s also worth pointing out that even though Ceferin was not president of UEFA in 2014 (Michel Platini still held the post at that time), he was part of the UEFA legal committee at that time and has been UEFA president since 2016.

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Legendary manager Gerard Houllier dies at 73

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PARIS — Gerard Houllier, a Frenchman who won three titles in one season as manager of English club Liverpool following a disappointing spell as the coach of France’s national team, has died. He was 73.

Liverpool and the French soccer federation announced the death Monday. French sports daily L’Equipe said he died at home on Sunday following heart surgery in France.

“We are mourning the passing of our treble-winning manager, Gerard Houllier,” Liverpool wrote on Twitter. “The thoughts of everyone at Liverpool Football Club are with Gerard’s family and many friends. Rest in peace, Gerard Houllier 1947-2020.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to Houllier, along with many current and former Liverpool players.

“Absolutely devastated by the news about Gerard Houllier,” Jamie Carragher wrote on Twitter. “Loved that man to bits, he changed me as a person and as a player and got LFC back winning trophies. RIP Boss.”

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Houllier had a mediocre stint as coach of France’s national team in the early 1990s, his short-lived journey ending with an embarrassing failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

His tenure at Liverpool was far more successful, leading the Reds to the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup treble in 2001. He is one of only three managers — along with Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola — to have won three trophies with an English club in the same season.

Houllier joined Liverpool in 1998, initially as co-manager with Roy Evans before taking sole control within a few months after Evans stepped down. He rebuilt the team, bringing a more disciplined and tactically savvy approach using more foreign-based players.

Houllier had recovered from heart surgery in 2001 after doctors operated on him for several hours to repair damage to a major artery near his heart. He stopped coaching in 2011 following a final job with Aston Villa.

UEFA paid tribute to Houllier at the start of the Champions League draw on Monday.

“He greatly contributed to European football,” UEFA deputy secretary general Giorgio Marchetti said. “Our thoughts are with his family and the whole of French football in these difficult times.”

A former amateur player turned English teacher, Houllier started his coaching career with second-division French team Noeux-les-Mines before joining Lens. He moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 1986 and led the club to its first league title.

Houllier joined the French federation in 1988 and was appointed as deputy coach of the national squad, working alongside Michel Platini. Houllier was named coach when Platini stepped down following the 1992 European Championship.

As France coach, Houllier endured a huge letdown after his players were seconds away from qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in the United States only to blow their chances in a dramatic finale.

France needed only a draw from its final two home qualifiers against Israel and Bulgaria to reach the World Cup. France led Israel 2-1 before conceding two goals in the last 10 minutes and losing 3-2.

Hosting Bulgaria, which needed a win to qualify, France took the lead after 30 minutes but Emil Kostadinov evened the score five minutes later. Then, with only a minute left, France striker David Ginola gave the ball away and Kostadinov fired a half-volley past goalkeeper Bernard Lama.

Houllier stepped down after the traumatic exit but continued to work with successor Aime Jacquet, helping France win the 1998 World Cup before joining Liverpool the same year. After six years with the Reds, Houllier returned to France in 2005 as coach of Lyon, winning two French league titles.

Friendlies: Mexico wins in the Netherlands, Giroud makes French history

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European teams used international friendlies on Wednesday to prepare for critical third and fourth UEFA Nations League matches this international break.

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The USMNT is not in action this break but Tata Martino took Mexico to Europe for a notable win before returning home to meet Algeria on Tuesday.

Olivier Giroud scored two to make more French history and Turkey gave Germany headaches thrice in an entertaining draw.


Netherlands 0-1 Mexico

Frank de Boer’s misery against North American opponents moved from MLS to the international scene when Raul Jimenez’s second-half penalty gave El Tri a 1-0 win in the Netherlands.

Mexican goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera was quite good in the win including a late save on Luuk de Jong before Memphis Depay pasted the rebound off the bar.

There was plenty of Premier League presence for the Dutch, as Nathan Ake (Man City) replaced Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) at halftime, and Manchester United’s Donny van de Beek played next to Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool), who subbed out after first 64 minutes. Brighton’s Joel Veltman entered the game at half.

Inter Miami’s Rodolfo Pizarro started at left back for Tata Martino’s men and the LA Galaxy’s Jonathan dos Santos came off the bench.

The match-up of these two nations rarely fails to recall the Dutch side’s Arjen Robben theatrics-driven ouster of El Tri from the 2014 World Cup.

Germany 3-3 Turkey

Turkey sent a warning to both Germany’s defense and upcoming Nations League opponent Russia with not one, not two, but three equalizers against the Germans in Cologne.

Julian Draxler, Florian Neuhaus, and Luca Waldschmidt gave Germany 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 leads, only to the visitors counter through Ozan Tufan, Efecan Karaca, and Kenan Karaman.

The last goal came in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Germany meets Ukraine on Saturday and Switzerland on Tuesday in UNL play.

France 7-1 Ukraine

Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud scored two goals to match and then pass Michel Platini for second on France’s all-time goals list with 42. No word on whether Platini is offering the record book a little something extra to not acknowledge it.

Only Thierry Henry (51) remains above Giroud.

Corentin Tolisso of Bayern Munich had a goal and an assist, as did Kylian Mbappe in the blowout. Wissam Ben Yedder assisted Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann late.

France also got a crazy goal from Rennes teen Eduardo Camavinga, one of such quality we gave it its own post earlier Wednesday.

France’s fifth marker was an own goal and Ukraine’s loan goal came from Dynamo Kiev’s well-regarded 22-year-old midfielder Viktor Tsyganov.

Giroud’s first goal of the game was superb.

Elsewhere

Switzerland 1-2 Croatia
Slovenia 4-0 San Marino
Portugal 0-0 Spain
Poland 5-1 Finland
Italy 6-0 Moldova
Zambia 1-0 Malawi
Cyprus 1-2 Czech Republic
Denmark 4-0 Faroe Islands
Estonia 1-3 Lithuania
Montenegro 1-1 Latvia
Austria 2-1 Greece