LONDON (AP) – A moment that prepared Aleksander Ceferin for European football’s stresses and tensions came three decades ago, in a far graver moment for the continent. When a man approached, the law graduate was relaxing at his family home in Slovenia on June 25, 1991, sitting on the terrace with his parents, brother, sister, and their partners. “He said ‘Aleksander Ceferin?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘War has started. You go with us,'” Ceferin recalls. “It was wild. I was shocked.”
Ceferin was conscripted just as his tiny nation, nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, declared independence from multi-ethnic Yugoslavia. The response from Belgrade was to send in forces tofederation’s bloody breakup.
“It finished very, in 10 days, but there was a lot of tension – day and night – and threats and bombs,” Ceferin says. “It’s an experience that helps you survive if some people try to destabilize you.”
The president of UEFA brought up the memory in an interview with The Associated Press about the announcement last weekend of a renegadeto rival the Champions League and the belief he was betrayed by those previously thought to be trusted friends.
“Psychologically, it was such a shock for me,” he says from Ljubljana. “Similar to the War. You cannot compare, but both were stressful – the tension was similar.”
Ceferin’s immediate task was to stop the 12 wealthiestfootball norms.
“Spoiled children cannot destabilize me,” he says.
Particularly galling for Ceferin was the deception of Juventus. So close was his relationship with Andrea Agnelli, the chairman of the Italian champions, that Ceferin was godfather to his daughter as chairman of the European Club Association, Agnelli and the rest of the elite signed on two Fridays to expand the Champions League from 2024 to fend off threats of a Super League split. By the following morning, however, Ceferin’s concerns resurfaced that Agnelli would renege on his commitment to stick with UEFA’s competitions.
When Agnelli stopped returning calls as he drove from Slovenia to Switzerland, Ceferin’s worst fears crystallized. “The worst day was Saturday because then I realized that it was a pure betrayal, that some. “It was strange because I what would happen the next day.”
By Sunday, the Super League plan that first leaked in January was being activated by 12 clubs.
“I got afrom three or four clubs saying, ‘We are sorry, but we have to say otherwise we are out,'” Ceferin says. Emergency meetings were held by the English, , whose showpiece competitions would be wrecked by severing a link to placings to European qualification. The English Football Association leadership contacted the administration of to seek help to keep the national game intact.
The response was a joint statement by UEFA and the leagues and federations in England, Spain, and Italy, warning the “cynical project” would be repelled with. Any would be banned from playing in existing competitions. So the largest contingent- six English clubs – would be expelled from the , and their players would be unable to represent their countries.
But the group dubbed the “dirty dozen” bylate Sunday with a website scant on detail – particularly on women’s football – and a logo roundly derided for its cheap look. Ceferin was enraged. Pushing ahead with a planned briefing on the new-look , he criticized the “snakes” at rebel clubs, particularly upbraiding Manchester United vice-chairman Ed Woodward and “liar” Agnelli.
Such personalized, cutting rhetoric isn’t unusual for Ceferin since being electedin 2016. Notably, in 2018, FIFA leader Gianni Infantino was targeted for Club expansion plans. Ceferin attacked the pursuit of “selfish endeavors” by trying “to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private funds.”
Ceferin wasted little time trying to thwart thewas dragged through lengthy legal challenges. He was helped by Johnson threatening to introduce laws in Britain to stop an anti-competitive Super League and support for the Champions League from and the Premier League champion’s players.
Fan protests swelled in England, and Ceferin detected cracks in thealliance. With a UEFA Congress of the 55 European football nations to address in the Swiss resort town of Montreux on Tuesday morning, Ceferin singled out the owners in a direct appeal to see sense.
“Gentlemen, you made a huge mistake,” Ceferin said. “Some will say it is greed, others (will say) disdain arrogance, flippancy or ignorance of England’s football culture. It does not matter. What does matter is that there is still time to change your mind. Everyone makes mistakes.”
The only public pronouncement from an English club advocating the project was a 41-word statement from Manchester United co-owner Joel Glazer posted on the websites of PremierLeague: Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea.
Of the participants, the only owners who even occasionally speak publicly to the media are Arsenal’s Stan Kroenke and Liverpool’s John Henry. With billions of dollars to be earned from getting theover the line, they would front a lobbying campaign to advocate the new competition.