Aleksander Ceferin is new president of UEFA, promising a “wind of change” within European football. The head of the Slovenia FA scored a decisive 42-13 votes victory over Dutchman Michael Van Praag at today’s extraordinary election congress of the European football federation in Athens.
Ceferin, a criminal lawyer, is the seventh president in UEFA’s 62 years and the first from eastern Europe. While benefiting from support behind the scenes of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Ceferin made an impressive, if thin-skinned statement of intent in his address to delegates from the 55 European member associations before the vote.
As a consequence of his victory Ceferin also becomes a vice-president of the world federation and will take up his duties in Zurich at next month’s council meeting.
His manifesto theme had been pitched at medium-size and small nations – the vast majority of UEFA – and his hand had been strengthened by perceptions of a financial and structural coup secured by the big clubs of western Europe in the recent redrawing of the Champions League ‘financial map.’
Van Praag, clearly under no illusion about the prospective outcome, offered a short and comparatively perfunctory speech on his own behalf. He shrugged off concerns about his age (68) by comparing himself with the continuing energy of the Rolling Stones but his words would have gathered no votes.
In his own address before the vote, Ceferin repeated his own manifesto theme of wanting to achieve a balance between the sporting and business interests of the European federation which is by far the richest of six world confederations.
He said: “We are administrators of the most popular sport in the world. We are the guardians of the beautiful game and I want to create a balance between all the stakeholders in our sport, a balance that keeps all stakeholders involved and none left out.”
Several of Van Praag’s indirect criticisms had clearly irritated Ceferin, particularly the age/wisdom issue and the Dutchman’s manifesto theme of a need to “build bridges.”
Ceferin said: “Too young and inexperienced? Well, I’m almost 50 and have been chairing my own company and the football association of Slovenia for years now.
“You can say I am young and inexperienced but I think that’s disrespectful to all the presidents of small and medium-sized federations who, 365 days of the year, have to do more with less. Presidents of these federations have to be creative, strong and inspiring and, believe me, we have experience.”
He added later, in another swipe at Van Praag: “I’m sure building bridges is great but building pitches is better; I’m sure building bridges is great but building academies and technical centres is better; I’m sure building bridges is great but building the future for your youth is better.”
Ceferin acknowledged an impatience to move UEFA forward after a year of stasis since predecessor Michel Platini was first suspended from football by the FIFA ethics committee for financial misconduct in office.
He said: “We are tired of the current situation and look forward to a normal period about positive things, about friendship, about football.
“I’m here to find ways to tackle all the problems that surround our game as someone with a new and clear vision but who is bold and brave enough to open a new chapter in the history of this amazing organisation.
“Today the wind of change is blowing through European football. It’s the end of one era and start of a new one – an era which marks the end of some privileges from another time.”
Ceferin promised to be “the most reachable and accessible UEFA president you have ever had.” It will be interesting to see whether this extends befond the FAs to the media from which Platini had increasingly retreated.
He praised interim leader Angel Maria Villar and acting general secretary Theodore Theodoridis for holding UEFA together during the past year, saying: “Without you and your staff UEFA could have been in big danger today but it is not so we owe you, big time.”
Ceferin also hailed the expanded, 24-team European Championship – which had opened up more qualifying possibilities of course for his own Slovenia – and promised to support moves to ensure that UEFA became “the leading sport organisation in terms of good governance and transparency.”
He also promised to ensure “open bidding procedures” for all UEFA competitions as a counter to opponents’ pre-congress sniping that he had promised the Euro finals to the Nordic nations in 2024 or 2028.
“We should stop with politics, plots, intrigues, lack of transparency, self-interest,” Ceferin concluding, taking a “football first” theme which had been favoured by the late David Taylor, former Scottish FA ceo and UEFA general secretary.
Ceferin said: “Football first is what I promise all of you today. Nothing more, nothing less. Football first is an ideal for which I am prepared to change my life.”