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Pragmatic Platini unlikely to enter FIFA race

By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - They play for high stakes in the casinos of Monte Carlo, but in the latest round of football politics UEFA president Michel Platini looks increasingly likely to stay away from the tables, preferring instead to bide his time before showing his hand.

The Frenchman is to make a much-anticipated announcement on Thursday after deciding whether or not to stand against long-term incumbent Sepp Blatter in an election to become president of world football's governing body FIFA.

But as it is clear this is a race he is unlikely to win, every indication now is that the 59-year-old will take the pragmatic option and keep his chips in his pocket.

Senior sources who know Platini well have told Reuters they cannot see him running, even though he was once seen as the natural successor to the current long-term FIFA president.

One, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "The key point is, he is doing a good job as president of (European football's governing body) UEFA and the European associations want him to remain as president.

"He may have distanced himself from Blatter recently, but he is unlikely to beat Blatter in a vote. I don't see any sign he is prepared to gamble what he has. If he wants to become FIFA president he will stand a better chance in five years' time. You cannot be certain, but I would be surprised if he ran now."

The main obstacle barring Platini's way, of course, is Blatter. The 78-year-old Swiss has been president of FIFA since 1998 and has given countless hints this year that he will stand again for a fifth term at the FIFA Congress in Zurich next June.

If Blatter stood, won and saw out his mandate, he would be 83 when the next election is due in 2019, a year older than his predecessor Joao Havelange was when he gave up the post 16 years ago.

Speaking in March after the UEFA Congress in Kazakhstan, Platini told Reuters: "There is only one person who can beat Blatter -- me.

"But I have not yet decided to run. I am happy being UEFA president and I still have to decide about FIFA, I have to consult many people but it will be my personal decision in the end."

At the time he also said he had plenty of support from outside his European constituency. But Blatter appears to have more.

Just before the World Cup started in June, FIFA's six confederations held congresses or meetings and Blatter addressed all of them. All of them, besides UEFA, pledged their support to him.

FIRST CANDIDATE

So far only one man has declared his candidacy: FIFA's former deputy chief executive Jerome Champagne, who announced in London in January his intention to run but said at the news conference when he launched his bid he did not think he could beat Blatter if Blatter decided to stand for re-election.

The 56-year-old Champagne stunned reporters when he said: "No I don't think I can beat him, he's someone of relevance.

"I don't know whether Mr. Blatter will run or not. Of course as a matter of politeness I informed him what I was planning to do."

Whether Platini will inform Blatter of what he intends to do before his media announcement on Thursday is another matter entirely.

The two men, once close, have become estranged over the last few years and on the day the World Cup started in Brazil Platini publicly withdrew his support for Blatter.

Speaking in Sao Paulo he said: "I am supporting him no longer. I have known him for a long time, I like him, but I am not favourable to him having another term.

"I think FIFA needs a breath of fresh air. I share the European position. A new mandate for him would not be good for football."

That is a long way from declaring his own candidacy, though, and while Platini, like Champagne, would like to see change at FIFA, it is hard to see either man gaining a straight majority of votes from FIFA's 209 member associations when the ballot papers are cast.

MEETING DELEGATES

Platini is meeting delegates from UEFA's 54 member associations on Thursday and those delegates left Blatter in no doubt how they felt about him when he addressed them in Sao Paulo in June.

Blatter endured a tense and frosty reception from UEFA which stood alone from other confederations in not backing his probable intention to run for the presidency again.

Michael van Praag, the president of the Dutch FA and Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English FA, openly challenged Blatter with Van Praag telling the Swiss: "Mr Blatter, this is nothing personal but if you look at FIFA's reputation over the last seven or eight years, it is being linked to all kinds of corruption and all kinds of old boys' networks things.

"You are not making things easy for yourself and I do not think you are the man for the job any longer."

Blatter stood unopposed in 2011 when Mohamed Bin Hammam was forced to pull out of the contest following bribery allegations, and according to sources, UEFA, the richest and most powerful FIFA confederation, does not want Blatter to have another shoe-in.

Van Praag has been identified as a possible "protest" candidate while Jeffrey Webb, the president of CONCACAF, the confederation representing North and Central America and the Caribbean islands, and a FIFA vice-president is another credible candidate but one who has so far ruled himself out of contention.

Platini, a winner as one of the game's greatest ever players, has been a pragmatic president of UEFA and while he wants changes in FIFA, he might well decide the clever thing for him to do now is bide his time for a little while longer.

(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ossian Shine)

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