Platini's victory threatens loss of fourth Champions' League spot

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The Independent Online

European football entered a new and unpredictable era yesterday when Michel Platini, the Continent's most gifted player of his generation, took over the role as its most powerful administrator - and immediately reiterated his plan to reduce England's Champions' League participation.

Within an hour of ending the ageing Lennart Johansson's 16-year reign as Uefa president by 27 votes to 23, in what had become an increasingly fractious battle, Platini confirmed he wanted to change the format of Europe's premier club competition in 2009-10, handing England's fourth automatic berth - and those of Spain and Italy - to weaker countries in order to give them a better chance of qualifying for the cash-rich tournament.

"I want to find a better equilibrium for a number of clubs," said Platini, who had campaigned fiercely in eastern Europe and the smaller western states for the right to sit at the pinnacle of Uefa's top table. "There is a meeting in April when we will start discussing this idea."

The former Uefa general secretary, Gerhard Aigner, said that giving extra Champions' League places to smaller countries would serve no purpose. "The other countries just don't have the quality of players to compete," he said. "Their clubs already have a chance to qualify against the third and fourth-placed teams from the big leagues - and they still get knocked out."

Arsène Wenger, who praised Johansson, was equally sceptical. "I am scared that he based his programme on something that he will not be able to deliver because he cannot decide that," the Arsenal manager said. "That has to be voted. If it gets voted we will all adapt and fight harder to be number three."

Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, hopes he will not be able to implement the change. "It is nice to see a football man in charge," he said. "But on the other hand if he wants to take a Champions' League place away from us - that is to the detriment of the Premiership. It gives us virtually no chance of qualifying for the Champions' League."

The four British home associations are understood to have been split 2-2 in the vote, but Platini's victory was no great surprise, given Johansson's age. Many delegates said that, at 77, the Swede was just too old to carry on for an unprecedented fifth term. Yet opting, albeit narrowly, for his 51-year-old opponent was a choice potentially fraught with disputes. Not only does Platini want to alter the Champions' League, he also favours an executive presidency, ruling in the autocratic style of the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, his long-time colleague, over the more consensual approach favoured by Johansson. Lars-Christer Olsson, Johansson's general secretary, is now expected to resign.

Platini, who immediately becomes a Fifa president, wants to take on the bureaucrats in Brussels to curb their influence on the game as well as hitting hard any heavily indebted clubs.

Johansson could not disguise a bitter campaign. "I appreciate the Fifa president's words about what we have achieved in the 17 years of my presidency but I cannot appreciate it when he interferes in an election process," said Johansson.

"It is a game before a product, a sport before a market, a show before a business," said Platini just before the result. "Our credibility is at stake."

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