UEFA president Michel Platini has described the new spirit of unity in European football and a renewed atmosphere of respect as the highlights of his first year in office.
Platini told delegates from the 53 member associations at the 32nd UEFA Congress, that the achievements of the past year were “almost unhoped for”.
“My hope when I was elected was to reunify football in Europe. It was high time to stop the quarrelling and to show respect for all members of the football family.
“It was time to stop tearing each other apart and making out that we could not understand each other.
“When I asked the big clubs to abandon elitism it was a friendly piece of advice and not an ultimatum. European football had become a bit schizophrenic in its structure.
“Clubs now recognise the importance of national teams. If players are the soul of football, then clubs are the heart of football.
“UEFA is no longer isolated in its ivory tower. My aim continues to be to unite football so that all members can be heard and feel respected.”
The major developments have been the creation up of the new Professional Football Strategy Council involving the national associations, leagues, players and clubs.
The creation of a new European Club Association (ECA) will have a far-reaching impact, Platini predicted.
“Today we now have an agreement which resolves the major problems of the past – without winners or losers,” he added. “Perhaps, though, there is indeed one winner – football.
“With this agreement and the creation of the European Club Association on 21 January, the football family has rediscovered peace, concord and serenity.”
Platini also said he intended to increase the number of champions from middle-ranking nations taking part in the Champions League.
“From 2009, we will have a Champions League which is more open, more democratic and more in keeping with its name. We will have more national champions in it,” he added. “Seventeen rather than 13.”
However, despite the progress made in the past 12 months, Platini also said that the sport faced a number of challenges in the years ahead.
“Violence, racism, xenophobia, illegal betting, corruption, money-laundering, the trading of children by unscrupulous agents … let us recognise that our sport must be inflexible and radical in rejecting all these ills, and the extremism which brings them about,” he said.
“It is not enough to hope that all of these things stop – we have to want them to stop.”