Gianni Infantino has told L’Equipe he “didn’t jump at the chance” to take advantage of corruption allegations against Michel Platini when he replaced his former UEFA boss in the race to be FIFA president.
Infantino succeeded the disgraced Sepp Blatter in 2016 after Blatter had left the post following revelations of impropriety including a “disloyal payment” of more than two million Swiss francs to Platini.
Blatter and Platini were cleared of corruption but banned from football activities, and Infantino — who had been appointed as UEFA general secretary by Platini — stepped up when the European body asked him to be its candidate after the allegations against Platini.
“I didn’t jump at the chance,” he said in an email exchange with the French newspaper. “Up until then, the idea of being a candidate for the FIFA president had not entered my head.”
Infantino denied he had helped bring about the downfall of his boss in order to step into the breach, stressing that he had asked for and received Platini’s blessing to run.
“I didn’t call him, I went to see him in person with a UEFA vice-president,” he wrote. “We talked about the situation, about my candidacy and the fact that I would withdraw the minute his situation was cleared up.
“I came to ask his opinion and for his green light. He gave me that.”
Infantino added that he could not see how Platini could have felt betrayed.
“Frankly, no. I understand that in certain situations he had the reflex of looking for those responsible, but that shouldn’t prevent him seeing clearly,” he wrote.
“Before that payment from Joseph Blatter was revealed, I was — along with others — in the middle of preparing Michel’s campaign for the FIFA presidency.
“That news came like the sky crashing down on our heads, as they say in Asterix. We were devastated, me as much as the others.
“And to be very clear, I’m not happy with Michel’s situation — it has never made me happy. But that’s no reason to imply motive and have conspiracy theories, produced with no proof.”