By Andrew Warshaw
February 7 – On the day he was re-elected as UEFA president for four more years, Aleksander Ceferin pulled no punches in his opposition to FIFA’s controversial proposals to change the landscape of world football, declaring he would not be a “yes man” over the highly divisive $25 billion project
With FIFA President Gianni Infantino, the architect of the proposals, sitting just yards away, Ceferin used his address at the UEFA Congress in Rome to maintain his stance against plans to introduce a 24-team Club World Cup and turn the Nations League into a global event courtesy of a still largely secret investment consortium of mystery backers.
The rift is set to come to a head at the FIFA Council meeting in Miami next month and Ceferin, in his president’s address a few hours before being formally sworn in for a second term after running unopposed, warned that his organisation would not be swayed.
Throughout his speech, the 51-year-old Slovenian focussed on the principles of unity and respect but declared: “Respect means telling our friends, family, colleagues, bosses and partners when we disagree with them and when we think, in all humility, that they are wrong.
“It is often the yes-men who lure leaders to their demise. And conversely, it is often those who disagree in a measured, reasonable and constructive way, even if they sometimes do so in a direct, uncompromising fashion, who do them the greatest service, help them move forward and prevent them from making mistakes.
“By telling FIFA that we disagree with their current proposals on the Global Nations League and the Club World Cup, we show them respect and we show respect to football, the game we love and the game we must protect.
“We sincerely hope that FIFA will also show us respect by listening to our views … UEFA and European football deserve to be respected.”
Ceferin also used the occasion to dismiss, not for the first time, talk of a European Super League. To that end, UEFA signed a new five-year memorandum of understanding with the European Club Association which represents some 200 clubs.
“While the two of us continue to lead our respective organisations, there will be no Super League. This is not a promise. It is a fact,” he said.
Urging Europe’s top clubs not to cause unnecessary chaos and division by privately persuing a split, he added: “You captivate entire generations. You make football popular. This gives you rights and privileges. But this also gives you responsibilities. If you had carried out your alleged [super league] plan, your clubs would have lost their status as ‘great clubs’ in the hearts of the people. The only thing ‘great’ about you would have been your past, and nothing else.”
Listing his achievements since taking over in 2016, Ceferin made a point of stressing how UEFA’s governance had been improved with “common sense reforms” such as limited terms of office and the publication of salaries but conceded “there remain weaknesses in our system” and that there was therefore more to come.
Earlier in his speech ahead of his re-election which was by acclamation and a lengthy round of applause, Ceferin admitted he had doubts and had made mistakes since taking office in September 2016 as a relative unknown.
He didn’t spell these out but with Infantino – accused by his critics of running FIFA with far too little transparency and accountability – in the audience, Ceferin left the following comment open to interpretation.
“A leader without doubts is a delusional and dangerous leader. And a leader who never makes mistakes quite simply does not exist or is deceiving him or herself. And that is dangerous.”
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