Momentum is gathering behind Michel Platini as Uefa prepares for the organisation's first presidential election for 17 years.
The Frenchman, 51, is now the favourite to beat the incumbent Lennart Johansson, the 77-year-old who has ruled European football's governing body unchallenged since 1990. Most of the 52 national associations who make up Uefa are keeping their vote in tomorrow's election secret but some have gone public: Denmark, Poland and Serbia support Platini, with Germany, Ukraine and Spain backing Johansson.
The four home nations are among those keeping their vote private rather than risk being seen to back the loser, but it is believed that Platini has the edge here as well. The Football Association is also thought to be leaning towards the Frenchman despite his promise to limit the Champions' League to three clubs from any one country.
The FA chairman Geoff Thompson is a friend of Platini's and, though he may come under pressure from top-flight clubs to back Johansson, he could argue that he would be in a better position to influence the Frenchman over the Champions' League if he is seen as an ally.
Generally, Johansson has support among the bigger footballing countries - but in this election San Marino's vote carries as much weight as Italy's. Johansson's age continues to be a factor among some associations - particularly as a Uefa rule states committee members must now retire once they reach 70. One national association president said: "Denmark have publicly declared for Platini because they are unhappy their officials have had to retire from Uefa committees when they reach 70 yet a 77-year-old is standing for president, and other national associations feel the same way."
However, other senior football figures suggest the vote will be too close to call. Another leading association member said: "I have one person telling me Platini is in front and another that the tide is turning back to Johansson."
The Fifa president Sepp Blatter's barely-disguised hint that he is backing Platini could yet decide some waverers. The head of another association said: "Once the momentum gets behind one candidate he attracts support from all those associations who are keen to be seen to back the winner, and the momentum is now behind Michel Platini."
Platini is claiming to have won over almost the entire eastern European bloc apart from Ukraine and he may also have benefited from a perception that Johansson is standing only to stop the Frenchman rather than from a desire to remain as president.
Uefa, meanwhile, expressed solidarity for the Polish and Macedonian football associations yesterday, urging the governments of the two nations to stop meddling in football affairs. Fifa and Uefa took joint action this week on what they see as two similar cases of government intervention.
On Monday, the two bodies condemned the Polish minister of sport Tomasz Lipiec for appointing a commissioner to head the country's Football Association. The following day Uefa and Fifa sent a letter of complaint to the Macedonian interior ministry after it shut the Football Association offices on 15 January during a financial inspection. Uefa discussed the two cases at a meeting of its executive committee yesterday. William Gaillard, the Uefa spokesman, said: "The emphasis was on preserving the autonomy of the football institutions, when we are facing some pressures from some governmental authorities to challenge this autonomy.
"We only recognise the democratically elected presidents of those two national associations, and will not accept this kind of behaviour by governmental authorities. The doors for dialogue remain open but at the same time we give our full solidarity to the two [FA] presidents and executive committees, and we wish that those governments stop interfering with those two national associations."Reuse content