English football is losing its identity, Platini warns FA

The Uefa president spoke to Sam Wallace in Durban about the need to look for a home-grown solution after the failure to qualify for Euro 2008
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The Independent Online

It is not difficult for Michel Platini to recall another time when an England team did not qualify for the European Championship; he has only to cast his mind back 23 years to when he was the greatest player in Europe. In 1984, in his native France, Platini scored nine goals in five matches to lift the trophy in a tournament untroubled by the presence of an England side.

When Platini spoke to The Independent yesterday, he did so as a man with a greater interest in the fate of English football than he did as the man who scored a remarkable two hat-tricks in the 1984 tournament. Now he is president of Uefa and he has one wish for the Football Association as it appoints its second manager after the débâcle of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign: make it an Englishman.

Platini, 52, is strident in his belief that English football is taking a dangerous course in its importing of players and dislocation of club from community. In South Africa for the World Cup draw on Sunday, the great French playmaker was critical of the Premier League's failure to produce young English players, of the influx of foreigners and even the influence of his friend Arsène Wenger whose Arsenal team is virtually English-free.

Platini admitted that there was little he could do as Uefa president to change English football – that must come from the FA or the Premier League – but he said that his "philosophy" was in direct opposition to what was taking place in England. "You ask me what I like and don't like," Platini said. "I like your football, I like the games, I like the fans and the passion but I don't like the fact that it is too open [in allowing in foreign players].

"When you lose with the national team, that is the soul of your football, you can try to explain why. And if you do not have so many players to play, what can you do? I explain that there are 95 registered Brazilian players in the Champions League, 94 French players and 45 English players. When you have twice as many players than English, then it is difficult.

"I can do nothing personally, but it is my philosophy to protect the identity of the clubs and the country. Football was based on what? Manchester United against Liverpool with the players [from] Manchester and Liverpool, from that region. [Robbie] Fowler was from Liverpool, he grew up in that city, it was fantastic, but now you don't have the English players.

"In Arsenal now you don't have an English coach, English players, maybe not an English president soon. So why are they playing in England? Because of the fans, because of big business, because of the TV, because the clubs like that. It's not my philosophy. I like Wenger, I like [Sir Alex] Ferguson, I like their players and they do what is best for the clubs but it is not my philosophy."

A former France national team manager himself, Platini is exactly the kind of figure in world football that the FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, is likely to tap for advice on the next England manager, although the Frenchman denied they had spoken on the topic.

France, as Platini pointed out, have only once had a foreign coach, the Romanian Stefan Kovacs from 1973 to 1975 during a period of doubt in their ability to compete at international level. He said: "England is such a strong country that they have to take an Englishman. It's the players who make the difference, because it's the players who have to go on the pitch. But then you have to have a guy who everybody has trust in.

"If I am looking for the manager of England, I would try to find a good English guy who everybody trusts to make a good team. You have good players, although when I played against Arsenal or Aston Villa or West Ham when I was with Juventus you had 10 or 11 English players. Europe is open but you need to take care because your football is so popular. If you are Manchester United, you need to have some players from Manchester. Children identify with that."

France's inquest into their shock 1994 World Cup qualifying defeat to Israel, which meant they did not go to the tournament, is regarded as the basis for their success four years later in winning the trophy. Platini said that ripping up the plan and starting again after one failure would be dangerous. "Be careful because football is irrational," he said. "Don't try to solve the irrational. Football is a game. Cyprus can beat France, France can beat England, Cyprus can lose to Albania. That is football. That is why it is popular.

"It is not a disaster. It is a bad moment. Football is a never-ending story, you won in 1966. I played so many games. I won, I lost, I drew. I won Euro 1984 – and England were not there. There are no guarantees. So the word is not 'shocked' but, of course, it was surprising that Israel beat Russia and then England couldn't beat Croatia. So it was a shock for you, but it was a smile for all of Europe because it was good for football. Just as it is good for football if Cyprus beat France."

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