WORLD SOCCER magazine – People of the Year profile*: Aleksander Ceferin represents a new era.
He was not even a member of the old guard of the UEFA executive committee who decided, reluctantly, in 2016 that they had no option but to seek a replacement as president for banned Michel Platini.
The Frenchman may still protest innocence over his acceptance of a decade-delayed $2million payment from FIFA, but few people care any longer. He is history. Ceferin is the new man; the chosen preference of Europe’s middlerank and minnow federations who saw in the Slovene a break from the power grid of the western European mainstream.
Considered initially as a preference of the Russian-influenced east European nations and the Nordic countries, any suggestion that he might be their puppet was quickly dispelled when he killed off media claims that the “deal” was to send Euro 2024 to Norway and the rest.
Not that Ceferin quite knew what he was undertaking when he was propelled from comparative public anonymity to the number two role – behind FIFA’s Gianni Infantino – in world football politics.
He has quickly discovered such an elevated status is the responsibility of leading a federation which generates more than 90 per cent of the wealth of the world game.
One of the strengths of the busy bureaucracy which allowed UEFA to run smoothly for a year without a president at all is that Ceferin’s past 12 months in office have allowed him to extend its purview over a wide range of projects.
The 51-year-old has also brought UEFA closer to a number of major international NGOs which affords the organisation ever greater political influence, status and – in case it needs it – protection.
Ceferin began 2018 alongside a former president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, in addressing a major sports-integrity forum. Later came the PR coup of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Council of Europe.
Simultaneously came FIFA business in his role as chairman of the competitions organising committee and then it was back to Nyon to defend staff against death threats for an investigation into Albanian match fixing.
In the modern world of sports politics, the projection of the message is crucial.
Infantino has discovered this to his cost over the contentious “secret” deal for a tournaments revamp.
One arena in which Ceferin did appear to follow the Platini line was in his suspicion about a rush to video assistant referees. Hence his expressed concerns that FIFA and Infantino were scampering too far, too fast in implementing VAR at the World Cup finals in Russia.
UEFA, intimated Ceferin, was ready to wait and see. Now, case proven, he has smoothly changed gear and VAR will be running in the Champions League knockout stage this season – with more to come.
The next question is when – rather than whether – Ceferin will leave the Platini era even further behind by declaring goal-line assistants redundant.
Football is not for sale. I cannot accept that some people, some of our colleagues who are blinded by the pursuit of profit, are considering to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private funds. We are not the owners of football. We are not allowed to sell it – Aleksander Ceferin
The last few months of the year saw no let-up for Ceferin. The Nations League was launched with such surprising success that FIFA wants to copy the concept, while common sense returned to the European Championship with the award by Ceferin’s executive committee of the 2024 finals to Germany.
This time next year, however, he will be judged not by 2018 but by his response to the plethora of major challenges which lie ahead.
UEFA’s financial fairplay system has been brought into disrepute by the “Football Leaks” revelations about Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City; the security of UEFA’s TV income has been challenged by Saudi Arabia-based pirates; FAs will expect to see UEFA step up its pursuit of the 2030 World Cup finals; and Europe will demand a heavy financial price for accepting FIFA’s $25billion competitions land grab.
One factor is for certain: Ceferin is going nowhere as he stands unopposed for re-election at UEFA Congress in Rome on February 7. He will be around for a long time to come.
*By KEIR RADNEDGE