New boss aims to narrow gap in UEFA

Newly elected president, Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin, is congratulated by Uefa representatives during the 12th extraordinary congress in Lagonissi, Greece. He takes over the remainder of Michel Platini's term.
Newly elected president, Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin, is congratulated by Uefa representatives during the 12th extraordinary congress in Lagonissi, Greece. He takes over the remainder of Michel Platini's term.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Unheralded Slovenian football chief Ceferin gets strong support from smaller federations

ATHENS • The new Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, a hitherto largely unknown Slovenian lawyer, has vowed that his first priority will be to look again at the controversial recent deal to give more Champions League revenue to Europe's biggest football clubs.

Faced with the recurrent threat of a breakaway, European football's governing body's executive committee recently agreed to hand Italy, England, Spain and Germany four guaranteed slots each in the Champions League and revamped the revenue split to favour those clubs that had previously been most successful.

But Ceferin, the head of the Slovenian Football Association since 2011 who came from nowhere to win the support of 42 of the 55 Uefa voting members, won the support of smaller federations by complaining they were not properly consulted.

"We were not informed properly, I still think so," the 48-year-old said after overcoming Michael van Praag, his more experienced Dutch FA rival. "About everything else, we will have to sit down and see what is the agreement and what we can do in future."

The new model, seen as an attempt to quell breakaway talk among Spanish and Italian clubs in particular, who are concerned about the English Premier League's financial muscle, was devised by a three-man working group comprising English Football Association vice-chairman David Gill, the Portuguese Fernando Gomes and van Praag.

The Dutchman, who said publicly that he would try to unpick the deal if he won and accused the clubs of putting a gun to Uefa's head, insisted afterwards that he had not been present when the final details were agreed.

I DID NO WRONG

I have a clear conscience. I am certain not to have made any mistake and I will continue to fight this in the courts.

MICHEL PLATINI, who resigned as Uefa president in May after a four-year ban over a suspect US$2 million payment.

The plan was passed by the Uefa executive committee in Monaco last month but caused outrage among some smaller associations and the umbrella body for the 24 European leagues.

"We should show we are the ones who are the governing body," Ceferin said. "At the same time, we have to have dialogue with the clubs and I'm sure this situation can be solved."

The Uefa presidency, one of the most powerful positions in the game, became vacant in May after the disgraced Michael Platini failed in his attempt to overturn a four-year ban in the courts.

Ceferin will take over the remaining 21/2 years of the Frenchman's tenure after defeating the 68-year-old Dutch FA president van Praag by 42 votes to 13.

The genesis of Ceferin's bid to become Uefa president was believed to be a series of meetings in March in Slovenia and Croatia between around 15 of the smaller members of the confederation to decide on a credible candidate to stand up for their interests.

He was also quickly backed by larger countries including Italy, France, Germany and Russia.

In his first press conference as president, Ceferin insisted he would not be afraid to also revisit the Financial Fair Play rules that were introduced by Platini but later watered down in the face of opposition from some of the bigger clubs.

He denied allegations that those lobbying on his behalf had promised inducements in return for votes and that Fifa's president, Gianni Infantino, had backed his campaign in contravention of the rules.

"If you want to ask if he supported me, I hope so," Ceferin said. "But I never asked him about it. All the stories about official support and stuff like that are a simple lie."

But despite the talk of reform and transparency, the sense that football's power brokers have reverted to business as usual was exacerbated by the fact that Platini was allowed to make a farewell speech.

The Frenchman, banned from all football activity for four years over a US$2 million (S$2.73 million) "disloyal payment" received from former Fifa chief Sepp Blatter, said he would continue to fight to clear his name.

"I have a clear conscience," he said. "I am certain not to have made any mistake and I will continue to fight this in the courts.

"I'd like to thank you for these nine years. I think we did a great job. I hope you enjoyed it and are proud of what we achieved. I'm proud. That's why I wanted to say goodbye and thank you. Friends of football, farewell."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'New boss aims to narrow gap in UEFA'. Print Edition | Subscribe