NYON, Switzerland — Michel Platini's dream of becoming the next FIFA president is over.
Platini told The Associated Press on Thursday that he remains determined to overturn the eight-year ban he was handed by FIFA's ethics committee last month, but that the deadline for the Feb. 26 election is too short and renders his candidacy impossible.
"I'm withdrawing from the race for FIFA presidency," Platini told the Associated Press in an interview. "The timing is not good for me. I don't have the means to fight on equal terms with the other candidates. I have not been given the chance to play the game. Bye bye FIFA, bye bye FIFA presidency."
Platini's bid to succeed Blatter and take football's top job was put on hold because of a payment he received from his former mentor back in 2011. Blatter and Platini were banned for eight years last month for conflict of interest in the 2 million Swiss franc (£1.35 million) payment deal that is also the subject of a criminal investigation in Switzerland.
Platini said he still hopes to clear his name at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The 60-year-old Frenchman was not authorized to bypass FIFA's appeal procedure, which states that he will only be able to turn to CAS once FIFA's appeal committee will have ruled on the case.
"I've spent more time in hearing rooms than on football pitches speaking about 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 or football news," said Platini, refusing to call the past three months the most difficult period of his life. "I'm taking this philosophically, let's wait and see what happens. But injustice is revolting me and I'm trying to fight it."
Platini and Blatter were cleared of corruption charges in December but suspended for a series of breaches including conflict of interest. But Platini, who worked at FIFA as Blatter's special adviser from 1998 to 2002, said he has no regret over the payment.
"I can't have any regret in that story because things fell upon my head while I haven't done anything wrong," Platini said during the interview in a Nyon hotel. "I'm struggling to understand what happened, unless there was a will somewhere to prevent me from bidding."
Without naming them, Platini asserted that "many national federations wanted me as president" and that he received about 100 letters of support as well as 50 promised votes.
"I had 150 associations thinking that I'm the right person to solve FIFA's problems," Platini said. "It won't happen. But there is no age limitation, so maybe I'll come back in 20 years. Who knows?"
The former Juventus player did not give explicit support to UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, who has been backed by Europe's governing body in a candidacy prompted by the suspension imposed by FIFA on Platini.
"Europe needed a candidate and the executive committee chose Gianni Infantino," Platini said. "Let's see how things work out and see if Gianni can win. I don't think it will be easy."
Platini's fall from grace has been quick, spectacular and unexpected. Just four months ago, he was considered the favourite in the race.
But his campaign derailed after he was questioned on Sept. 25 in a Swiss federal investigation of suspected criminal mismanagement at FIFA.
Platini was paid in February 2011, just before Blatter began campaigning for re-election against Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar. Platini's UEFA urged its members weeks before the June 2011 election to back Blatter, who was elected unopposed when Bin Hammam was implicated in bribery.
Few FIFA officials knew of the Platini payment which emerged during a wider Swiss probe of the governing body's business affairs, including suspected money laundering in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests.
Asked whether he understood critics saying he should have been more careful with the way he handled the FIFA payment, and for example asked for a written contract, Platini said "there is nothing wrong in claiming what one has promised."
"I just did what every employee in this world would have done," Platini said in a defiant tone. "I've done what I needed to do. I have nothing to reproach myself with. I think they are making me pay for being UEFA president, I think the Zurich administration does not wish someone from UEFA to head FIFA. Because we are beautiful, we are big, we are rich, and we are the strongest."
Platini's withdrawal from the FIFA presidential race marks the end of his steady rise to the summit of football politics. The former playmaker, who won the European Championship with France and the Golden Ball three times, proved to be a canny politician after an unimpressive period as France manager.
Platini, who was joint president of the organizing committee for the 1998 World Cup in France, defeated incumbent Lennart Johansson by 27 votes to 23 for the leadership of European soccer's governing body in 2007. At UEFA, he sought to curb clubs' overspending, introduced a minimum 10-game ban for racist abuse by players, added more teams to the European Championship and oversaw the continued commercial success of the Champions League.
Platini was long seen as a likely successor at the top of world football to Sepp Blatter, whose first successful campaign as FIFA president he supported in 1998. But Platini finally chose not to stand against Blatter when he stood for re-election again in 2015.
It was only after FIFA was plunged into its worst crisis that Platini clearly distanced himself from Blatter, calling on the FIFA boss stand down. After the arrests of several senior football officials on fraud charges, Blatter finally announced that he would step aside and Platini launched his bid, vowing to restore "dignity" at the top of the governing body.
Platini however said he remains a strong supporter of Blatter "for many things."
"He is a great personality. He has done many beautiful things in football," Platini said. "He also did bad things, certainly. I've supported him, I worked with him. I sincerely wish him to be at FIFA's congress (in February) to bid goodbye to FIFA."
Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press