KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: “Balance” is the watchword for Aleksander Ceferin in the Slovene’s programme for the future of UEFA should he defeat Angel Maria Villar and Michael Van Praag in next month’s election.
Europe’s football federation stages an extraordinary congress in Athens on September 14, some 11 months after the eventual need to pick a new leader was signalled by the initial suspension of Michel Platini.
The Frenchman was investigated and ultimately suspended for four years by the FIFA ethics committee for financial misconduct while holding his dual roles as president of UEFA and a vice-president of the world governing body.
UEFA offered Platini patient support while he sought to clear his name in the sports courts. Eventually he had to concede defeat and Villar, veteran Spanish federation president, stood in to present the trophies at last season’s European competitions and chair UEFA’s ordinary congress in May in Budapest.
Villar represents the conservative ‘old guard’ while Dutch federation president Van Praag has presented himself as a stability candidate in testing times.
Ceferin, a comparatively new kid on the political block, appears to have secured powerful support from eastern Europe and the Nordic nations. A central fear in both regions is that the big clubs of western Europe want to corral control of UEFA’s competitions and their ever-increasing riches.
In a manifesto entitled Creating the Perfect Balance, Ceferin makes no secret that standing up for Europe’s lower and middle classes is a key issue. It can also be a vote-winner.
He says he would ” defend the European sports model and make sure that UEFA competitions never become closed leagues or tournaments: clubs and national teams from each and every member association should have the opportunity to play in UEFA competitions including the UEFA Champions League and the Euro.”
That suggests Ceferin not only favours the newly-expanded 24-team format of the European Championship finals but might look at an increase to a 32-nation field.
Ceferin’s manifesto is an intriguing mix between firm pointers and odd corporate aggrandisement.
For instance he advocates “being at the cutting edge of the fight against corruption and matchfixing,” proportionality of disciplinary fines with respect to club and federation budgets as well as term limits for the UEFA president and executive committee members, though he does not dare enter into details.
Interestingly he also says that “only representatives active in their respective national associations can be members of the UEFA executive committee.”
In the current circumstances this would alread have spelled expulsion for Wolfgang Niersbach who remains on the exco (and the FIFA Council) despite having quit as German federation president last winter over the 2006 World Cup cash scandal.
Flights of football fancy
Yet Ceferin indulges in delusions of corporate grandeur.
Ceferin wants ‘his’ UEFA to “scale even greater heights” and maintain a balance of “unity, stability and further prosperity” while also being a “role model of good governance and transparency” to become “the best sports organisation in the world.”
He is believed to benefit from the encouragement, at least, of FIFA president and former UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino. Coincidentally, a fellow Slovene, top accountant Tamas Velez, has just been appointed by Infantino as FIFA’s new audit and compliance chairman in succession to Swiss businessman Domenico Scala.
Ceferin, born on October 13, 1967, was a committee member of Olimpija Ljubljana before becoming federation president in 2011 and being re-elected in February last year. He is a member of UEFA’s legal and disciplinary committees.
His manifesto describes him as a lawyer who has specialised in criminal and commercial sectors and who also “has a strong record of defending human rights.” Supporters consider these particularly valuable qualifications for a senior sports official in this day and age.