KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has warned that, under his leadership, the European football federation will not tolerate money-grabbing “blackmail” from big leagues and/or clubs.
The Slovene lawyer was addressing, in Helsinki, his first congress as president since his election victory over Dutchman Michael Van Praag last September.
Ceferin came to power too late to prevent a reorganisation of the Champions League for 2018-21 which extends the access rights of the major leagues. But he has never made a secret of his irritation at a deal rushed through before he could lay his hands on the levers of power.
Not only, he insisted, would he prevent any further land grab by the big clubs but he slapped down the European Professional Football Leagues body which has scrapped its agreement with UEFA not to schedule domestic matches on Champions and Europa League dates.
The EPFL wants to force UEFA to mimic its grant to the European Club Association of two seats on the executive committee.
This includes FIFA president Gianni Infantino who was attending the congress of the body of which he was general secretary until his transfer from Nyon to head the world governing body Zurich last year.
Ceferin’s address took up a repetitious theme of not being afraid to act for the good of the European game. This included being prepared to act against any further rebellions from within the UEFA family whether by leagues or breakaway-tempted clubs.
Ceferin said: “To some clubs I shall say firmly and resolutely: there will be no closed league. That is not in line with our values and ideals. It’s as simple as that. But we will work together for the good of club football and correct what needs to be put right.
“To some leagues, I shall say firmly and resolutely: we will never give in to the blackmail of those who think they can manipulate small leagues or impose their will on the associations because they think they are all-powerful on account of the astronomical revenues they generate.”
In a further comment, clearly directed at European Club Association leader Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, he added: “To a football legend and great leader I like, I respect and I enjoy working with, I shall say it calmly and dispassionately, but firmly and resolutely: clubs are not the only ones that care about football.”
On a day when UEFA sent four new members to FIFA Council (Sandor Csanyi, Costakis Koutsokoumnis, , Dejan Savicevic and Reinhard Grindel, Ceferin acclaimed “a new generation of forward-looking leaders” without needing to spell out a hope that they would work for the good of the game rather than their own bank accounts.
He talked up UEFA’s competitions as “the best in the world” but not an excuse for complacency. Hence a package of governance reforms including the creation of a division dedicated to fight violence, doping, corruption, match-fixing, poor financial management and ethical and disciplinary problems.
Cefern also acknowledged that UEFA’s own reputation had been damaged by the fall-out from the FIFA corruption crisis which had included the downfall of his presidential predecessor Michel Platini. The Frenchman was banned from football for four years for negotiating a ‘disloyal payment’ from the world federation.
He said: “These [governance] changes are essential if we are to rebuild our image, restore our credibility and strengthen our legitimacy . . . It is difficult to preach when you are not beyond reproach yourself. This is a necessary step towards greater calm and stability in UEFA. ‘Leading by example’ has to be more than just a catch-line.”
Looking ahead Ceferin promised that a five-year plan to consider the way forward for European football would involve widespread consultation.
He said: “The leagues, clubs and players are not our enemies. They are key stakeholders in our game. Partners that we must respect. So why be afraid of dialogue? Why be afraid of telling them face to face how we could shape the future together, hand in hand, in the best interests of football?”
However Ceferin the followed up wth his warning that UEFA under his leadership would not submit to blackmail.