KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Aleksander Ceferin is about to find out, if he did not know it already, that gaining election as UEFA president was the easy part. Achieving anything of significance over the next two years will be far more complex.
At least he has influential support. His 42 votes at Wednesday’s extraordinary congress in Athens, compared with the mere 13 of Dutchman Michael Van Praag, proved the point.
If Ceferin had support in the corridors of power – not “behind the scenes” he insisted – from FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Russia’s multi-tasking Vitaly Mutko then so what? Some of the snarling critiques and barbed questions aimed at the 48-year-old from Slovenia suggested that such manoeuvring was some sort of crime.
What was he supposed to have done to pursue the top job? Send out a prim little email and then sat back and done nothing else before walking on stage in Athens? Is that how Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are campaigning to reach the White House? Is that how the bosses of the world’s multinationals reached the top of their particular tree?
Politics is about influence: cosying up to those who possess it already, gaining it and then wielding it. In that game Ceferin played Van Praag right off the park.
Indeed, it remains a mystery why the KNVB president did not stage a gracious and diplomatic withdrawal ahead of the vote, when it was already clear that he would be well beaten.
Perhaps he felt a duty to press the issue all the way as a gesture of appreciation towards Belgium and England for coming out on his side a week earlier, albeit far too late to represent anything more than symbolic support.
The most biting issue for Ceferin is the anger felt among the middle-rank and small nations at what can only be described as the coup achieved by the major clubs and the UEFA executive committee in stitching up the 2018-21 club competitions deal.
This not only presents Europe’s top four federations with four guaranteed slots apiece in the Champions League group stage but hands the European Club Association a half-share in the new company to control it.
The angry majority have complained long and loud that they were not consulted or warned. Ceferin, on Wednesday, numbered himself among the complainants. That admission, from a man aspiring to lead the organisation and thus presumably with his ear to the ground, was something of an own goal.
Ceferin also revealed himself, in his address and his press conference, as intriguingly thin-skinned. If he had the confidence of his own campaign convictions he would not have felt a need to lower himself to sniping the way he did at an already-beaten opponent.
Subsequently Ceferin promised that one of his priorities – along with meeting the staff in Nyon – would be to review the new deal. Those were the fighting words his constituency had wanted to hear. But he has only two and a half years in which to work, which will barely encompass discussions over the 2021-2014 deal.
Money, money . . .
Also, if he wants to be re-elected then he will be expected to keep the money flowing . . . and that, as was explained very early on to Michel Platini after his own accession in 2007, depends on keeping onside the clubs who lay UEFA’s golden eggs.
Furthermore, Ceferin will be working with the executive committee whose members approved the new deal. Interestingly, the majority are from federations who would have voted him into power and thus have a vested interest in not rocking a boat in which they have been sailing far longer than him.
No, the bigger prize of the Ceferin interim presidency is not the Champions League share-out but the jockeying for places in the bidding queues for the 2024 and 2028 European Championship finals.
The revenue returns for the expanded finals in France this past summer were beyond expectations. No wonder Germany, the Nordics, perhaps Irish, Scots and Welsh, maybe Spain and Portugal as well as other partnerships, will want to stake their claim once the muddled 2020 aberration has been put to bed.
Politics, as former British Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson once said, is the art of the possible. Aleksander Ceferin must now show his supporters – and his critics – exactly how talented an artist he is.