Sepp Blatter chose his resort during his trial: a five-star hotel overlooking Lake Maggiore. The former Swiss president of the International Football Federation (FIFA), from 1998 to 2015, is delighted to find, from June 8 to 22, Michel Platini, with whom he will appear before the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona for “suspicions fraud, dishonest management, breach of trust and forgery of titles”.

Mr. Blatter is happy to “stay in the same hotel, during the trial”, as the one who was the former boss of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) from 2007 to 2015. “He is not matter of being in the same hotel “, however certifies to World the Frenchman, prosecuted for having received from Mr. Blatter, in February 2011, an allegedly unfair payment of 2 million Swiss francs (1.9 million euros).

This divergence reflects the bittersweet relationship, made up of hatred and admiration, between the two defendants, former political allies who have become irreconcilable rivals. The common fall of the two former main leaders of world football, in the fall of 2015, after the Swiss prosecutor’s office had opened a criminal investigation into this payment, and their legal setbacks are akin to a Shakespearean drama.

This affair torpedoed the political ambitions of the Frenchman. A candidate for the succession of Mr. Blatter, he was suspended by the FIFA Ethics Committee, like his ex-mentor from Valais.

“There was a relation of filiation between them”

Between the cheeky and charming Blatter, 86, and the ex-star of the grounds, 66, there was however a long “honeymoon”, as noted by a former collaborator of the Frenchman. From their meeting in November 1987, in Zurich, during the draw for the 1990 Italian World Cup, to the election of Michel Platini as UEFA president in 2007, with the late support of Valaisan, the duo is established as the winning ticket in world football.

It was in January 1998, during a secret meeting organized in Singapore, that the two men made a pact: powerful FIFA number 2 since 1981, Mr. Blatter, who was nervous at the idea of ​​succeeding the Brazilian Joao Havelange, puts in the pocket “Platoche”, then co-president of the organizing committee of the 1998 World Cup in France.

After the election of “Sepp” at the head of FIFA in June 1998, the ex-player became his technical adviser. Based in Paris, he regularly travels to Zurich to “give his opinions”, within several technical committees and deals in particular with the harmonization of competition calendars and the Goal program for the development of poor federations.

“At the start, Michel was in awe of Blatter, his knowledge of the workings, his analytical mind and his mastery of politics, analyzes Alain Leiblang, ex-collaborator of Mr. Platini at this time. With Blatter, Michel escaped from his status as a player and learned politics. As for Blatter, he had a footer available who was not a doggie, with an aura and an unassailable reputation, a political ally. »

In June 2002, Mr. Platini became a member of the FIFA Executive Committee. Five years later, Sepp Blatter backed his “foal” when the Frenchman was elected UEFA President. “Blatter then got wet for Michel, who saw him as a mentor, remembers a close friend of the Frenchman. There was a relationship between them. »

The awarding of the 2022 World Cup, breaking point

It was in 2008 that the agreement broke down. At the time, the new boss of UEFA joined forces with the European Commission to scrap against the Blatterian project of “6 5” – requiring teams to field at least six players from the country of their club – while he was initially in favor of it.

“It went downhill, with misunderstandings, people interfering, explains an ex-companion of Michel Platini. They did not have the same conception: Platini wanted to be the boss of European football, and Blatter thought that a confederation president was only an organizer of competitions. »

For William Gaillard, former UEFA communications director: “There was water in the gas from the fall of 2010, due to disagreements over the designation of the host country for the 2018 and 2022 Worlds. From then on, Blatter perceived Michel as a competitor, whereas before he had been as a vassal. »

Asked by Le Monde, Sepp Blatter, officially a supporter of the United States’ candidacy during the 2022 World Cup award vote, did not say anything else: “The date of the breakup was when Michel called me the day after his lunch at the Elysee Palace on November 23, 2010 to tell me that he would vote for Qatar [for the awarding of the 2022 World Cup] at the request of Nicolas Sarkozy. There, we got angry. Afterwards he did not tell the truth by explaining that he had never been asked to vote for a country. »

Despite these frictions, Mr. Platini supports Mr. Blatter against the Qatari Mohamed Ben Hammam for his “last term” at the head of FIFA, during the ballot organized in June 2011. Decision more tactical than emotional: the Swiss dangled his succession to the French in the next ballot, in 2015. “Many asked me to run [in 2011, including Mr. Ben Hammam], but I always refused to run as long as Mr. Blatter was there”, entrusted in 2015, Mr. Platini to the Swiss prosecution.

In June 2014, Mr. Blatter seeks a new mandate

In June 2014, in Sao Paulo, before the start of the World Cup in Brazil, Mr. Blatter, 78, announced, to the amazement of Platini, that “[his] mission is not finished” and implied that he wants to return in 2015 for a fifth term. “Michel was mad with rage, because Blatter did not keep his promise”, comments Alain Leiblang. “There was a deal and Platini felt betrayed, and he was,” says an ex-close friend of Mr. Blatter. “In 2014, Platini no longer wanted to be FIFA president, and the executive committee said, ‘If it’s like that, we’ll support the outgoing president,'” Blatter reacted coldly today.

A point of no return was reached on May 28, 2015. Mr. Platini asked, “eye to eye”, his “friend Sepp” to resign, the day after the arrest in Zurich of seven FIFA dignitaries during of the anti-corruption crackdown carried out by the Swiss police on the orders of the American justice system, forty-eight hours before the election of the FIFA president.

“I forgive, but I do not forget,” said the Valaisan on May 29, 2015, after his re-election against the Jordanian prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, supported by Mr. Platini. But, under pressure from his entourage and from American justice, Sepp Blatter ended up abdicating on June 2, 2015, and apparently left a boulevard to the French in the race for his succession.

It was in April-May 2015 that the payment of 2 million Swiss francs – according to the two defendants, a remainder of wages for the period (1998-2002), during which the Frenchman worked as an adviser to the boss of FIFA – redone surface at FIFA headquarters in Zurich: this payment was then “presented internally as the weapon to prevent Platini from becoming president one day”, blows a former employee.

“We need to bring out files on Michel”

“When he resigned, Mr. Blatter said to me, ‘It’s up to you now, because Michel cannot be FIFA president,'” said during his interrogation before the Swiss prosecutor’s office, in 2018, Jérôme Valcke, the former secretary general of FIFA. “And Blatter told me at that time, ‘We have to get some files on Michel out so he can’t show up.’ And he told me about this 2 million file […]. Blatter said to me, “Ah! we can get this file out.” »

Mr. Valcke’s version supports the idea that Mr. Blatter was aware that this payment, which was the subject of an invoice sent by Mr. Platini to FIFA in January 2011, could harm the Frenchman. “Now, I have Michel by the balls, would have gloated Mr. Blatter in front of his close guard, on receipt of the invoice. We have already paid for it. But I will pay it again, of course. »

Mr. Blatter has always denied having made “such comments” and “absolutely” disputes Mr. Valcke’s version. The latter had invited, in a letter sent in March 2014, Mr. Blatter to “not let go of the bridle” and “get down on one knee” to Mr. Platini.

For his part, Mr. Blatter sweeps away the “watered sprinkler” thesis, as one ex-colleague calls it. Or that of the Machiavellian “father” and eager to block the way to the “hated son”, even if it means killing him.

However, a few weeks before the opening of a criminal investigation in Switzerland relating to this payment, a relative of Mr. Blatter assured Le Monde: “Things will happen to Platini. Blatter will practice what is called the Chinese torture. »

Although he denies it, Mr. Blatter was known internally to collect files on his rivals in the FIFA executive committee. According to the elements of the criminal file of the Swiss public prosecutor’s office, it is in a piece of furniture, in the office of the president of FIFA, that the police officers who came to search found, on September 25, 2015, the copy of the invoice sent by Platini. “I had just classified it at home, smiles today the ex-boss of world football. That’s all. »

“I don’t know if President Blatter would support my candidacy,” Michel Platini said on September 25, 2015 to the Swiss prosecutor’s office, far from imagining that his political ambitions would be crushed. Good and bad tongues say no. »