Michel Platini reluctantly handed over the reins of power in European football to Aleksander Ceferin, a little-known Slovenian lawyer who won the Uefa presidential election by a landslide yesterday.
Ceferin will complete Platini’s four-year term through to 2019 while the disgraced former France captain returns to his Fifa-imposed exile to continue serving a four-year ban over an improper payment.
Before Ceferin beat Uefa vice-president Michael van Praag 42-13 in the secret ballot, Platini was given special dispensation by Fifa’s ethics judge to bid farewell to European football leaders. Platini assured Uefa delegates he has a “clear conscience” over the legitimacy of the 2 million Swiss francs (£1.5m) he received from Fifa in 2011 that led to his downfall four years later.
After Platini was initially suspended last October by Fifa, a political vacuum opened up in European football that was capitalised on by the elite clubs to influence the future of the Champions League. Ceferin’s immediate challenge is to heal the rifts created by the secret deal, which he opposes, to increase guaranteed Champions League places for clubs from the powerful leagues of England, Spain, Germany, and Italy.
“The most important thing is to give that leadership back to Uefa that clearly we have not had since Michel Platini had to step down last year,” Uefa vice president David Gill said.
With only two and a half years until having to renew his mandate, Ceferin will have little time to waste to convince Uefa’s members it was right to entrust someone with only five years of experience around the governing body with its top job.
“Some people may have said that I am not a leader, that I am too young and too inexperienced to become the next Uefa president,” said Ceferin, a father-of three from Ljubljana. “It’s not because you repeat again and again, loud and clear ‘I am a leader’ that you are a leader. If you have to do it you are probably not a leader.”
Ceferin, aged 48, said combining running a law firm in Slovenia with leading the country’s football federation since 2011 required him to be “creative, strong and inspiring”.
“You can say that I am young and experienced but I honestly think it disrespectful for all small and medium-sized federations who, 365 days a year, have to do more with less,” Ceferin said.
Reinhard Grindel, the German federation president, viewed Ceferin’s election as a vote against the Uefa establishment, including Van Praag of the Netherlands.
“This big majority shows that a lot of FAs ... have a wish to get a new dynamic in Uefa from outside the executive committee,” Grindel said.
The Scottish FA voted for Ceferin but the English FA backed Van Praag.
Ceferin is the seventh president in the 62-year history of Uefa. He said he speaks five languages, is a black belt in karate, and has crossed the Sahara Desert five times, four by car and once on motorbike.