Aleksander Ceferin has been named as the new president of UEFA following a landslide win at Wednesday’s electoral congress in Athens.
The 48-year-old won 42 votes from a possible 55 to beat rival Michael van Praag to become the successor to Michel Platini, who stepped down this year after being hit with a four-year ban from football administration over an alleged disloyal payment in 2011.
Ceferin has proclaimed himself “not part of the old establishment” of football, as well as “transparent” and “a family man” – all traits he considers vital to restoring some strength and credibility to European football’s governing body.
But who is the man tasked with leading UEFA for at least the next three years? Here, we look at his background and what he wants to bring to the role.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
Ceferin was born on October 13, 1967 in Grosuplje, central Slovenia – then part of Yugoslavia.
After graduating from a law course at Ljubljana University, he joined his father’s legal business, where he developed a particular passion for representing professional athletes and sports clubs, though he also worked on criminal cases.
He later took over the management of the company from his father, and says the success of the practice means he has not had to enter football politics for financial gain or to enhance his own reputation.
“I have a very big law firm so I don’t need it [the presidency] for my CV or to get something for me personally,” he said.
He is married to wife Barbara, and has three daughters. He is fluent in English and Italian, boasts a black belt in karate and has crossed the Sahara desert on five separate occasions: four times in a car, and once on a motorbike.
INTRODUCTION TO FOOTBALL
Ceferin’s first foray into football administration came in 2005, when he joined the executive board of KMN Svea Lesna Litjia, one of Slovenia’s most successful futsal clubs. He became an executive committee member of amateur club FC Ljubljana Lawyers in the same year.
After serving for five years as a senior member of NK Olimpija Ljubljana, he was elected as the president of Slovenia’s Football Association (NZS) in 2011 and was successful in increasing the popularity and audience numbers for the country’s top flight.
The NZS also underwent an institutional revamp, moving to a new €8.5million headquarters that were officially opened by FIFA president Gianni Infantino in May.
Ceferin, who served on UEFA’s Legal Committee for five years before being elected to the top job, has been accused of being a puppet of Infantino – something he has dismissed as “imagination” on the part of the media.
Ceferin fought off a challenge from UEFA vice-president Van Praag to claim a landslide win at the elections, thanks to a commitment to challenge the power of the elite clubs and improve transparency in the organisation.
Speaking after his win, he vowed to make a review of the new Champions League reforms a priority, after earlier expressing his concerns that changes to the qualification system and revenue distribution came as part of an empty threat from some of the continent’s most powerful sides.
Specifically, he is opposed the creation of a European Super League – something he claims was used as a “bargaining chip” by those clubs to gain favourable reforms, which included guaranteed group-stage spots for the top-ranked leagues, currently the Bundesliga, LaLiga, the Premier League and Serie A.
“I am sure they do not want to leave UEFA and UEFA’s competitions,” he said. “It would be boring to play in some closed league and it will mean war with UEFA.”
Ceferin also identified match-fixing as a key threat he is determined to combat as he admitted that European football faces “many” problems.
He has suggested that there will be no repeat of the Euro 2020 format, which will see cities across the continent hosting matches, and vowed to encourage growth in women’s football.
“We are years in front of the USA concerning men’s football but concerning women’s football we are at least equal if not worse, so we have to work on that,” he said.
‘YOUNG AND INEXPERIENCED’ – BUT DEFIANT
Ceferin, though two years older than FIFA counterpart Infantino, is the youngest man to be elected as UEFA president and is largely unknown outside his home country.
There have been concerns that he lacks the experience or the renown in footballing circles to handle the job, but Ceferin himself feels this could work to his advantage as he attempts to stand up for the sport’s ‘little guys’.
“I’m a man of conviction, a passionate man, a man of my own and a man of his word,” he said. “I’m not a showman. I have no ego issues and I’m not a man of unrealistic promises.
“Some people may have said that I’m not a leader, that I’m too young and too inexperienced to become the next UEFA president.
“Me a leader? I don’t know. I cannot declare myself a leader. It’s not because you repeat again and again loud and clear, ‘I’m a leader’, that you’re a leader. If you have to do it, you’re probably not a leader.
“I’m almost 50 years old and I’m chairing my own company and the Football Association of Slovenia for years now. You can say that I’m young and inexperienced but I honestly think it’s disrespectful for all the presidents of small and medium-sized federations, who for 365 days a year have to do more with less.
“Presidents of these kinds of federations must be creative, strong and inspiring. And, believe me, we have experience.”