Ceferin comes from nowhere to land UEFA presidency


Ljubljana (AFP)

New UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin has been a high profile lawyer in his native Slovenia but had no record in football until he took over his country's football federation in 2011.

The 48-year-old father of three has often appeared on Slovenian television speaking for high-profile defendants represented by his family law firm, never losing his temper and always keeping the image of someone who has the situation under control.

Leading UEFA will be a severe test of his skills as it seeks to overcome the shock of losing former president Michel Platini, implicated in FIFA's corruption scandals, and facing challenges to its prized Champions League.

Ceferin already surprised people when he took over the presidency of Slovenia's football association, the NZS, in 2011 and quickly joined FIFA's disciplinary committee and UEFA's legal committee.

Besides reorganizing the NZS, Ceferin is also credited with bringing together the former Yugoslavian republics in 2015 to make them a football politics bloc.

"I was the first to bring to the same table the national associations of the former state (Yugoslavia), that we adopted a common positions and presented them to UEFA and by doing so improved our reputation within UEFA," he told state television in a recent interview.

Ceferin really emerged as a growing power in international sports in June when he announced his bid to become UEFA president with the backing of over a dozen European associations ranging from Russia to Scandinavian countries.

He says running for UEFA's top job was not his idea.

The football associations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, with which he shares many ideas on reforming European football, urged him to run.

"When that thing (scandal) happened to Michel Platini, the Scandinavians called me and told me 'we believe you would be the perfect candidate for president'", Ceferin told Ljubljana's daily Delo.

Platini who only officially resigned in May, had not been in the post since October last year over revelations of a $2 million payment from FIFA in 2011 for work carried out a decade earlier.

After the Scandinavian call, Ceferin could not turn back and says he has even paid for almost one hundred flights to lobby for support with national associations.

"I'm little known in these circles so I have to introduce myself to each one of them," Ceferin said recently.

"People want changes, they want a younger man with new ideas who has not been around since forever," Ceferin added.

As a lawyer, he has cautiously abstained from criticising the handling of UEFA's affairs but this month he lost his temper when a Norwegian paper accused him of being "the (FIFA) president's man" in the race, an allegation he attributed to his main rival, the Dutch Michael van Praag.

"You can judge yourself who's using the old (UEFA) methods. The one that meets football associations and presents them his programme to get their support or the one that invents stories to compromise the elections and desperately get at least some support," Ceferin told Slovenian state.

Slovenia, a country of two million, has been organising its own football leagues since it declared independence in 1991 and its national team's greatest success was to qualify to the 2002 World Championship in South Korea.