With a week to go before what is expected to be a fiercely contested vote for the Uefa presidency, Lennart Johansson, the 77-year-old incumbent, came out fighting yesterday by accusing his rival, Michel Platini, of lacking experience to lead football's European governing body.
Platini has said he will strip England and other major European leagues of their fourth Champions' League spot if he wins in Düsseldorf next Friday in order to give smaller countries greater representation. But Johansson believes such radical moves will not be enough to swing the vote the Frenchman's way.
Platini's idea has infuriated the Premier League and Johansson thinks it is change for change's sake. "I am not going to make any changes in a competition that is given high praise - I see no reason," he said. "You should ask Platini why he wants to change such a success story. The Champions' League is sent by television all over the world and many sports have tried to copy it."
While Platini continues to woo eastern European nations in a final attempt to garner enough votes among Uefa's 52 national federations - he is in Moscow today at the invitation of the Russian football federation - Johansson believes he already has enough support, provided his backers keep their word. Germany and Spain are among his strongest supporters, but so far the Football Association has kept its cards very close to its chest.
"It's a secret vote, which means people can say one thing and do something else," said Johansson, who knows about disappointment after being beaten by Sepp Blatter for the presidency of Fifa, the world governing body, in 1998. "But if they vote as they tell me, which I believe they will, I will win."
Platini is likely to push for full autonomy in trying to solve Uefa's most pressing issues, a strategy that is anathema to Johansson. "I have worked hard to achieve certain goals, one of which is to develop the president's role as a leader and a man of consensus who listens before taking decisions and does not interfere in the day-to-day running of the organisation," he said.
Platini, a three-times European footballer of the year and a member of the Fifa and Uefa executive committees, is Johansson's junior by 26 years. But the Swede shrugs off any suggestion he is too old for an unprecedented fifth term and believes his experience is far more important.
"I cannot criticise his [Platini's] behaviour. We have both tried to behave like gentlemen, even though I am not in agreement with his programme," Johansson said. "He should learn and gain experience, which he hasn't had yet. It takes some experience to administrate and lead 52 nations."
Johansson is annoyed, however, at the apparent decision of Blatter to switch allegiance and support the charismatic Platini. The Fifa president was one of those who advised Johansson to stand again but appears to have done a U-turn by backing the man who, for a number of years, was his personal adviser.
Agreement to compensate clubs who release players for international duty could be in place by the time of the 2008 European Championship finals, Uefa's chief executive, Lars-Christer Olsson, said.Reuse content