KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: Lennart Johansson, one of the architects of international football’s modern financial structure, has died aged 89.
The former UEFA president and FIFA vice-president had been in fragile health for some years. His death was confirmed in a short statement from the Swedish football federation which said: “He fell fell asleep on the evening of June 4 after a short illness.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino interrupted preparations for the world federation congress in Paris by saying: “I am heartbroken by the news of the passing away of Lennart Johansson. He was a friend and an invaluable source of wisdom and inspiration.
“I will be forever grateful for having had him as the president of UEFA when I joined the organisation in 2000. Since then, Lennart has always been a role model of professionalism and, more importantly, of humanity.”
Old rival Sepp Blatter said: “With Lennart Johansson we lose a real heavyweight in football. We were allies, opponents – even rivals. But in all situations there has been respect and fair play. Thank you for your dedication to our game and to your family. R.I.P.”
Johansson was born in Bromma in 1929 and became an AIK supporter as an eight-year-old in 1937. Later he was chairman of the club from 1967 to 1980, chair of Swedish league from 1978 to 1984 then of Swedish FA from 1985 to 1990.
In his latter role he obtained for Sweden host rights to the European Championship finals in 1992.
In 1990 he was elected president of UEFA a post he held for 17 years, until 2007, when he stood reluctantly for re-election at the urging of senior UEFA officials, but lost to Frenchman Michel Platini. He was then acclaimed as honorary president of UEFA.
Johansson became increasingly depressed in later years by the corruption scandals which engulfed the world game. He was a victim in particular in the controversial manner of his defeat by Sepp Blatter when he ran for the FIFA presidency in 1998.
Last year he told the Swedish newspaper SportExpress: “I think I have reason to be proud that I led such a large organisation for 20 years and never had such scandals as it has been now. Some of the highest-ranking individuals in FIFA and UEFA were corrupt villains. I told them so on several occasions.”
His wife Lola predecesceased him in 2017 after 40 years of marriage.
UEFA and the world of football are mourning the death at the age of 89 years of Lennart Johansson, the Swede who was UEFA President for 17 years, from 1990 to 2007.
During his term of office, the face of the European game changed completely, in sporting and commercial terms. UEFA itself developed from being a purely administrative body in a suburb of the Swiss federal capital Berne to a dynamic modern sport organisation based at the House of European Football in Nyon, on the banks of Lake Geneva in western Switzerland.
Lennart Johansson was born on 5 November 1929 in Bromma, a suburb of Stockholm. After gaining his initial administrative experience with AIK Solna – a club he always remained close to – Mr Johansson came through the ranks in the Swedish Football Association (SvFF), and served as the association’s president between 1984 and 1991.
Establishing a reputation as a strong, capable leader, Mr Johannson was elected as UEFA’s fifth President at UEFA’s Malta Congress in 1990.
While Lennart Johansson was at the helm, the UEFA Champions League was launched at the start of the 1990s and became the world’s most prestigious club competition – a blue-riband sporting event bringing together many of the best players on the planet, and followed by millions of football enthusiasts.
National-team football also flourished, with the UEFA European Football Championship final round growing into one of the most popular events on the world sporting calendar alongside the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games, with the number of final tournament participants increasing from eight to 16 during his presidency.
Lennart Johansson was named Honorary UEFA President at the UEFA Congress in Dusseldorf in January 2007, and he continued to take a keen interest in the affairs of UEFA and European football, in particular by attending UEFA Executive Committee meetings.
His love for football was lifelong. “The game remains unpredictable,” he said. “Sometimes you cry and sometimes you’re happy. These are the things that make it such a great game, and I am so proud to have played a part in supporting the game’s success in Europe.”
“I know that whatever decisions I’ve taken, whether people agree with them, I’ve taken for what I see as the good of football.”
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said: “UEFA and European football are deeply saddened by the passing of Lennart Johansson, and I would like to express my sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones, as well as to the Swedish Football Association, on their loss.
“He was a devoted lover and servant of football, who put his passion at the heart of his life. He will always be remembered as a visionary leader, and as the architect of the UEFA Champions League, and world football will be always be grateful to him for all he has achieved for the beautiful game.”
As a matter of respect and to pay tribute to the great leader, a moment of silence will be observed at all UEFA Nations League, UEFA European Qualifiers and UEFA Under-21 matches taking place this week.