Football: Ex-Uefa boss Johansson, father of Champions League, dies at 89; Infantino re-elected Fifa chief

Lennart Johansson was a driving force behind the formation of the Champions League, giving the continent's top club competition a new identity, a catchy anthem and worldwide reach.
Lennart Johansson was a driving force behind the formation of the Champions League, giving the continent's top club competition a new identity, a catchy anthem and worldwide reach.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Fifa president Gianni Infantino gesturing as he speaks at the 69th Fifa Congress at Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles, on June 5, 2019. He was re-elected unopposed.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino gesturing as he speaks at the 69th Fifa Congress at Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles, on June 5, 2019. He was re-elected unopposed.PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM (REUTERS) - Lennart Johansson, a Swede who presided over European football for 17 years as its new Champions League turned into a global commercial juggernaut, has died after a short illness aged 89, Sweden's football association said on Wednesday (June 5).

The president of European football governing body Uefa from 1990 to 2007 was a driving force behind the formation of the Champions League, giving the continent's top club competition a new identity, a catchy anthem and worldwide reach.

Later the same day, former Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino was re-elected Fifa president unopposed at the congress of world football's governing body in Paris, as he claimed to have turned the organisation from being "toxic and almost criminal" back to its core values.

His re-election was marked by a round of applause from the congress after the statutes were changed earlier in the day to no longer require a vote if there was only one candidate for the position.

The 49-year-old Swiss-Italian lawyer now has a four-year mandate to try and accomplish his grandiose plans for football which were partly frustrated in his first term.

He has been in charge of Fifa since February 2016, after succeeding Sepp Blatter in the wake of a damaging corruption scandal that Infantino claimed the body had now shaken off.

Johansson's reign at Uefa had seen huge revenue streams flow into the continent's big clubs, turning Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and others into multi-billion dollar enterprises, and their players into global megastars.

"World football will be always be grateful to him for all he has achieved for the beautiful game," Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin said in a statement.

The Swedish FA said Swedish football was in mourning.

Johansson took over the top job in European football at a turbulent time when money from television coverage was flooding into the sport and players gained complete freedom to move between countries and clubs in Europe.

"It was not a given that Uefa would be successful in meeting all these dramatic changes," the Swedish FA said.

"The Champions League became an enormous success, but Lennart Johansson's other major achievement was finding a fragile balance between the big clubs' demands and the needs of the broader football family."

Johansson ran against Blatter to head football's world governing body Fifa in an acrimonious vote in 1998 but lost. The Swiss, who led Fifa for 17 years, is now serving a six-year ban from football for unethical conduct.

The men remained rivals. The Swedish FA quoted Johansson as saying: "It is my 20-year fight with Blatter that people like."

Blatter's successor, Infantino, who worked earlier in his career under Johansson at Uefa, called the Swede "a friend and an invaluable source of wisdom and inspiration".

"Lennart has always been a role model of professionalism and, more importantly, of humanity," he said.

In 2007, Johansson stepped down as Uefa president after being beaten in an election by former France international Michel Platini. Johansson was given the title honorary president, a role which he took seriously, even attending meetings in his wheelchair.

Johansson was a lifelong supporter and honorary president of Stockholm club AIK.

In Paris, Infantino said Fifa's previously precarious financial situation was now looking rosy with the organisation's budget increased from US$5 billion to US$6.4 billion (S$8.73 billion) and reserves up from US$1 billion to US$2.75 billion.

This was despite increased spending on development projects in Fifa's 211 member associations. Fifa spent US$1.1 billion in the period 2015-18 and will increase the sum to US$1.75 billion from 2019-2022, he added.