Over the next month, across what would have been Euro 2020, we will be running a series on the players who defined each of the European Championships from 1972-2016 – and beyond that, left their imprint on modern football. Next up, it’s Michel Platini and his astonishing campaign at Euro 84.
Imagine a right boot changing the face of the European Championship, forever. While you could debate the most impactful individual at the World Cup finals and make a compelling case for Pelé, Diego Maradona or Franz Beckenbauer depending on your mood, there is one outstanding candidate for the equivalent person at the Euros.
France mourns Euro 84-winning coach Hidalgo, dead at 87
Michel Platini has appeared in many guises at the European Championship. Most recently he was the Uefa President who oversaw the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams for the 2016 edition in France, but he was exiled from the game in disgrace a year before it started when ethics violations led to FIFA slapping him with an eight-year ban from football. In 1992 he had been the manager of France, guiding the team through a perfect qualifying campaign of eight straight victories before the team bombed out in the first round in Sweden. Yet the main reason that Platini has greater synonymity with the European Championship than any other figure in its history is due to a summer of stunning performances as their captain when France hosted the tournament in 1984.
Platini the prodigy
Michel Platini poses at the 1978 World Cup
Image credit: Getty Images
As a 16-year old it didn’t appear that Platini would even make it as far as the professional game in France. Suspected heart problems almost nixed his career before it could get going. “I went to Metz for two days of trials,” he recalled in an interview with FourFourTwo in 2008, “and it was hot, they worked us hard, and I wasn’t very strong. After the trial they did these cardiovascular tests, and because I was tired and not used to so much hard work, my heart was going like the clappers. So, they sent me off to Nancy for some more tests and there they even said it was so dangerous I should give up sport altogether!”
The diagnosis was faulty, and it would be Metz’s enormous loss. Platini signed for his local team AS Nancy, where his father Aldo had played, and quickly blossomed into an exceptional attacking midfielder with a keen eye for goal. After completing his national service while there and playing for France at the 1976 Olympics, Platini was soon called up to the full national team. The 23-year old quickly became a key player for manager Michel Hidalgo and was influential in the 1978 World Cup, when France were unfortunate to be eliminated in the first round.
After 127 goals in seven seasons for AS Nancy, Platini transferred to Saint-Étienne in 1979, where the freakish scoring rate continued. He bagged 82 in the following three seasons, and St Etienne won Ligue 1 in 1980-81. Even accounting for taking all free-kicks and…