Who is Aleksander Ceferin?
How much do you know about the new president of UEFA?Meryl D'Souza September 18, 2016
European football has barely begun this season and already it's had some poignant moments. Leicester City, hot after their incredible triumph last season, won 3-0 in their first appearance in the Champions League against Club Brugge.
Then European stalwarts Manchester United, complete with £90 million star Paul Pogba, capitulated at Feyenoord in the Europa League.
But it's not just on the field that European football is changing. Nine months on from the banning of Michel Platini for his involvement in a corruption scandal with former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, UEFA finally has a new president - Aleksander Ceferin.
The 48-year-old lawyer from Slovenia was relatively unknown until he beat UEFA vice-president and Dutch FA president, Michael van Praag, 42-13 to become the organisation’s seventh president in its 62-year history.
The seeds for his September 14 triumph in Athens were sown way back in March when about 15 federations from Europe decided they needed a candidate who could represent their interests. Their state of paranoia stemmed from UEFA’s inability to give the smaller clubs a fighting chance against the larger ones. The nail on the proverbial coffin was the new Champions League deal that favoured Europe’s top four leagues (Spain, Germany, England, and Italy).
After securing the Scandinavian countries, Ceferin marched on and eventually won the backing of the bigger players like Italy, Germany and Russia. Those votes were enough to see the 48-year-old take over Platini’s four-year presidential term through to 2019.
Born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Ceferin graduated from Ljubljana University's law faculty. With his degree in hand, he joined his father’s law firm and gravitated towards representing professional athletes and sports clubs. Eventually, he took over the part he was groomed for and became the company’s director.
Despite being unknown, Ceferin is no outsider to the football world. He has been the president of the Slovenian FA since 2011 and is highly regarded by insiders. The Slovenian promised to toughen up financial fair play rules and revisit and possibly unpick the aforementioned Champions League deal. He also insisted he would deliver greater transparency, term limits and a new compliance committee.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Those words were spoken by countless other honchos – like Platini and Blatter – in football’s corporate world. They’re now a reflex in an institution where talk is cheap but meaningful action is chic. And if you take a closer look, the signs are ominous.
You wouldn’t be the first to feel there’s something off about the 48-year-old’s meteoric rise in a short span of six months. An article posted on the Josimar website suggested Ceferin had gained support from Scandinavian football associations by promising them the European Championships in 2024 or 2028 and offered a senior UEFA role for Swedish FA president Karl-Erik Nilsson.
In fact, Van Praag is quoted in the article saying he had heard that FIFA president Gianni Infantino's new strategic director Kjetil Siem, who had previously been the secretary general of the Norwegian FA, had lobbied for Ceferin on the FIFA president's behalf at a key meeting of Nordic FAs in Milan in May.
Time will tell how Ceferin’s appointment pans out, but for the sake of the game, we hope he delivers on what he has promised. Football off the field could use a tale of an underdog triumph, now more than ever.