Aleksander Ceferin will win a new four-year term at the head of European football’s governing body on Thursday but battles still await the UEFA president two and a half years after the corruption scandal that toppled his predecessor Michel Platini.
The 51-year-old Slovenian lawyer — who saw off Dutchman Michael van Praag in 2016 — is the only candidate in the election this time which will take place at the organisation’s Congress in Rome.
Ceferin’s reelection, on a full four-year term, is not in doubt. But the number of votes he receives from among UEFA’s 55 member associations could have an impact on his leadership.
Previously the head of the Slovenian Football Federation, Ceferin’s presidency so far has been marked by his discretion and a less charismatic approach than that of Platini.
The Frenchman is still suspended until October this year when he will complete a four-year ban from all football-related activities following the corruption scandal that also brought down then-FIFA chief Sepp Blatter.
“The situation was ideal. The biggest scandal had tarnished football’s image,” Ceferin recently admitted. “I stood. I was underestimated and when (opponents) realised the situation, it was too late.”
Since then, Ceferin — recently ranked just behind Melania Trump among the most influential Slovenian citizens in the world by Slovenian magazine Reporter — has imposed his own, more understated, style.
His most notable achievements have been introducing term limits for UEFA presidents — to a maximum of three four-year stints — and, according to one of those close to him, “maintaining unity in European football”.
Having previously been largely charged with putting in place measures voted for under the previous regime of Platini and Gianni Infantino, Ceferin can now hope to really make his mark.
– Bone of contention –
The biggest bone of contention moving forward is the plan of Infantino — now FIFA president — to introduce a new, expanded Club World Cup and global Nations League. Determined to protect UEFA’s own Champions League and recently-introduced Nations League, Ceferin is opposed to those ideas.
Infantino, who succeeded the disgraced Blatter in February 2016, will also be unopposed when he goes forward for re-election on June 5 in Paris.
Reforms to the Champions League which mean the continent’s leading four leagues — Spain, England, Germany and Italy — now all get four automatic qualifying spots in the group stage were initially proposed by Platini but brought in under Ceferin.
Nevertheless, the Slovenian has sought to champion the rights of clubs from smaller countries, and he must look for ways to restore competitive balance, something he recently said was his “greatest challenge” going forward.
Late last year UEFA confirmed plans to bring back a third European club competition from 2021/22, which would have 32 teams mainly from smaller member associations.
However, threats of a breakaway Super League have been staved off with the signing Wednesday of a Memorandum of Understanding until 2024 with the influential European Club Association.
Andrea Agnelli, chairman of the ECA which represents over 200 leading teams, hailed the agreement as “an important moment in the history of European football”.
“The Memorandum of Understanding places ECA firmly at the heart of UEFA’s decision-making process, in a manner which properly reflects clubs’ contribution to the development of the game,” added Agnelli, who is also chairman of Juventus.
“I believe (this agreement) sets the tone and bodes well for our long-term cooperation.”
Meanwhile, Ceferin will also have to deal with the burning issue of Financial Fair Play — can he restore faith in what was one of Platini’s flagship projects at a time when many feel clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have pushed its credibility to the limits?