Football/Soccer

New UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin ready to tackle football's 'many problems'

Matt Slater, PA

 

NEW UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said his first mission will be to "shake hands and introduce himself" to staff at the organisation's Nyon headquarters but his tasks will get much harder after that.

Having beaten Dutch rival Michael van Praag by 42 votes to 13 at UEFA's extraordinary congress in Athens, Ceferin certainly has the mandate to tackle the "many problems" he admitted football has, with a resolution to the row over Champions League reforms the most pressing.

Completely unknown outside his native Slovenia until recent weeks, the 48-year-old lawyer built a coalition that combined near total support from Europe's smaller nations, with the heavyweight backing of more traditional powers such as France, Germany and Italy.

Ceferin said: "Obviously people wanted changes and new faces, and you've seen what happened today.

"The big, medium and small associations were all asking for the same things and I might sound naive but I think they believe in my programme."

Responding to those who have suggested he only got the job because of back-room deals and friends in high places like new FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Ceferin said: "I was never behind the scenes. Nobody behind the scenes gets 42 votes.

"I have known Gianni Infantino since I became the president of the Slovenian FA in 2011 and he was secretary general of UEFA.

"If you want to ask me if he supported me, I hope so. I don't know. But if the general secretary thinks I am the best man for the job that is good, because he should know the organisation."

Infantino did not hang around the Grand Resort Lagonissi long enough to ask if that was the basis of his undoubted backing for Ceferin but the room was full of football associations more than happy to say they had voted for the new man because he was a team player who listens.

Both Ireland Football Association chief executive Patrick Nelson and Scottish Football Association boss Stewart Regan told Press Association Sport they back the unheralded Slovenian because he understands the interests of small nations but had the leadership qualities needed to navigate football away from its recent perils.

The father-of-three, who spoke fluent English throughout, has not provided too many policy details so far but did say he wants to bring in term limits for presidents, clear out all executive committee members who are no longer active in their associations and set up a compliance committee.

But it is the burgeoning class war over access to UEFA's club competitions that will dominate his first few months in the job, with clubs and leagues around Europe threatening to revolt over the deal UEFA hastily arranged with the powerful European Club Association last month.

That settlement saw the number of guaranteed Champions League group-stage places for Europe's strongest leagues - the Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League and Serie A - go from 11 to 16, half of the total, with radical changes proposed for how the money is allocated. The foremost of those is another that will favour the traditional superpowers, as it gives credit for past performances.

Ceferin said he is unhappy about how this deal was reached and communicated, and said sitting down with the various stakeholders would be his first priority.

Van Praag, however, has completely disowned the deal, despite sitting on the UEFA committee that negotiated it with the ECA, the successor group to the old G-14 collection of big clubs that he once led as president of Dutch side Ajax.

The defeated candidate told PA Sport the negotiations took place with the ECA effectively holding a gun to UEFA's head in the form of a breakaway super league, a threat that has been made before but this time was more real as talks with US backers were progressing.

The 68-year-old van Praag said the settlement was "negotiated by the UEFA hierarchy and ECA, not by me" but it was him who got ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to take the breakaway threat off the table.

Whether this deal can actually be unpicked is a question nobody has answered, although one senior UEFA source noted the candidate who most publicly wanted to unpick it had just been heavily defeated.

Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn did not go as far as van Praag, the man the FA backed, but said the deal was a "balancing act" between the desires of the big clubs, the more aspirational clubs, broadcasters and commercial partners, and the threat of a breakaway "had some substance to it".

For all of his frustrations about how the reforms, which are scheduled to come in from 2018, were reached, Ceferin might decide it is a mistake to test just how much substance there was to those threats.

Having crossed the Sahara desert four times by car and once on a motorbike, he clearly likes a challenge, though, and he himself listed match-fixing, racism and security as three he must address quickly.

But he must also remember he only has his impressive mandate for two and a half years, as he is completing the term started by his disgraced predecessor Michel Platini.

And it was the 61-year-old Frenchman who controversially opened the proceedings, as he was given special permission to bid farewell to the organisation he ran for eight years from 2007, despite his four-year ban from all football-related activities.

Platini used most of his allotted 10 minutes to praise football and UEFA but he started by repeating that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

"I am certain that I haven't made any mistakes and I will continue to fight this in the courts," said Platini, who was found guilty of receiving what the Swiss authorities described as a "disloyal payment" from former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is also now banned.

"You are going to continue this wonderful mission without me, for reasons that I won't go into," added the former France and Juventus star.

"I hold no grievance against anybody who didn't support me - everybody is entitled to their own belief. But that is not important, what is important is football."

And what is important to football is now another, very different man's responsibility.

Football/Soccer

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