Montpellier Victory Over Qatar Money Boosts Soccer, Platini Says

Montpellier’s surprise championship victory in France is proof that it takes more than money to win in soccer, Michel Platini, head of the sport’s European governing body, said today.

Montpellier last weekend clinched a first French title, finishing three points ahead of Paris Saint-Germain. The team from the capital had spent a French record on players during the offseason after being bought by the Qatari royal family.

“It’s a beautiful story,” UEFA President Platini said in an interview in Budapest where he’s attending world governing body FIFA’s annual congress.

Montpellier’s 30 million-euro ($38 million) annual budget is a fraction of that of France’s biggest teams such as Marseille, Lyon and PSG. The Paris club spent 80 million euros on new players including French record signing Javier Pastore, an Argentine forward who joined in a 42 million-euro deal.

“In France the richest don’t always win,” Platini said. “They beat Paris Saint-Germain and the Qatar money.”

Still, England shows that money talks: Manchester City, bankrolled by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on May 13 claimed its first English league championship in 44 years after spending more than 400 million pounds ($629 million) on new players. Six days later Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, beat Bayern Munich for its first Champions League title.

Such uncapped spending has led UEFA to draw up rules to make clubs live within their means. From 2014, these regulations could lead to sanctions such as transfer embargoes and even bans from participation in the Champions League.

Financial Fair Play

Platini said City and Chelsea’s financial muscle won’t allow them to ignore his “financial fair play” rules.

“Of course they can say what they want,” he said. “But we have a financial panel and we will look at that.”

Platini said he’s especially pleased for Montpellier because of his friendship with Louis Nicollin, a businessman who’s owned the club since re-establishing it after financial collapse in 1974.

“I go every year on holiday with Monsieur Nicollin,” Platini said. “I know him from 40 years. He’s been the president from 40 years ago who gave his own money. He saved the club a long time ago and created this club from the fourth division to be champion.”

Platini, one of soccer’s best-ever players, collected a championship medal with St. Etienne and captained France to victory in the 1984 European Championship before enjoying the most successful spell of his career with Italy’s Juventus. He won two Italian championships and the 1985 European Cup, and was a three-time continental player of the year.

Juventus Revival

Juventus was sanctioned to relegation to the second tier for the first time in its history in 2006 after being involved in a match-fixing scandal that also involved other clubs. This month, the team won its first title since returning to Serie A in 2007 after completing an undefeated season. That brought its league tally to a record-extending 28.

“It was a great team. They had problems, they paid: They went to the second division, they come back and now they are champions,” Platini said. “It’s good for Italian football as they are the most popular team in Italy.”

Asked if he celebrated the championship win, Platini said, “on the outside I try to be neutral. In my heart you never know.”

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