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UEFA president Čeferin says he will leave in 2027 and aims testy barbs at critics

A controversial change of legal rules would have let him stay. Čeferin called perceived opponents ‘clowns’ and said people who questioned UEFA’s unity in recent weeks should be ‘a bit embarrassed now’

UEFA
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin speaks during the 48th UEFA Ordinary Congress in Paris, France, February 08, 2024.YOAN VALAT (EFE)

UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin will not stand as a candidate in 2027, announcing the news in a testy statement on Thursday one hour after steering through a controversial change of legal rules that would have let him stay.

Čeferin has led UEFA since 2016 and said he was “tired of Covid, tired of two wars” and of plans for a rival Super League that he called a “nonsense project.”

He made the surprise announcement by opening a brief news conference with a statement in which he called perceived opponents “clowns” and said people who questioned UEFA’s unity in recent weeks should be “a bit embarrassed now.”

Yet UEFA has gone through unprecedented inner turmoil that damaged its reputation in recent weeks since the Slovenian lawyer moved to amend its rules that would have let him extend his presidency to 15 years until 2031.

UEFA has had a presidential term limit of 12 years since 2017 in anti-corruption reforms passed in fallout from American and Swiss federal investigations of international soccer that directly led to Čeferin being elected.

Soccer bodies came under pressure during the American federal investigation to prevent networks of self-serving patronage and influence, and Ceferin himself promised seven years ago he would not stay beyond 2027 in a job that pays him about $3.5 million annually.

The apparent power grab on term limits provoked a confrontation at a Dec. 2 closed-doors meeting with UEFA’s longest-standing board member, former Manchester United CEO David Gill.

It also pushed one of Čeferin’s closest allies, Croatia soccer great Zvonimir Boban, to resign two weeks ago as UEFA chief of football.

Boban cited his “total disapproval” on the term limits issue in a published resignation letter that hinted at wider unease at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. He added he was “not alone in my thinking here.”

The term limits issue came after a bumpy few months for UEFA in which it seemed to be supporting its disgraced vice president from Spain, Luis Rubiales, after his misconduct at the Women’s World Cup final in August. Rubiales resigned from soccer after three weeks of defiance and was later banned by FIFA.

UEFA also tried to ease a ban on Russian teams from international competitions by letting under-17 teams return. That provoked a backlash from about 12 European member federations which continued to refuse to play games against Russia.

However, Čeferin claimed on Thursday he made the decision to leave six months ago though he shared this plan with only a few friends and colleagues, including UEFA general secretary Theodore Theodoridis.

“Every organization needs fresh blood, but mainly because I was away from my family for seven years now. And I will be away from them for three more,” he said.

Čeferin also suggested he set up a kind of loyalty test as if to learn who might cross him.

“I wanted to see the real face of some people, and I saw it. I saw some good and bad parts,” the UEFA leader said in his statement. “It was actually amusing to watch all this hysteria.”

He targeted an unnamed European soccer official who made a “pathetic cry about morality” in a “narcissistic letter” to UEFA member federations, which some Čeferin supporters tried to frame as a leadership bid by Boban.

Čeferin made the unproven claim on Thursday that the official was one of the few who knew about his intention not to be a candidate in 2027.

The “clown” insult was previously used by Čeferin in a recent British newspaper interview to describe a UEFA member federation official who he said was rallying support against him. This was widely understood to be Romanian soccer president Razvan Burleanu, one of Čeferin’s colleagues representing Europe on the ruling council of FIFA.

After making his statement Thursday, the UEFA president stayed for only three questions from international media — two from Spanish outlets about the Super League that is backed by Real Madrid and Barcelona — before leaving his own news conference.

The move on term limits that Ceferin was criticized for has already been made at FIFA by its president Gianni Infantino, who attended the UEFA meeting in Paris.

Infantino also was elected in 2016 — also replacing a president ousted mid-term by the investigations — in fallout from the corruption investigations and steered through statutes changes early in his presidency that will let him stay until 2031.

In the congress business earlier, only Gill’s home country, England, raised a red card to oppose the statutes changes. It came minutes after a vote on whether to separate the term limit issue from the overall legal package was backed only by England, Iceland and Norway. Ukraine abstained in both votes.

In his keynote speech to congress, Čeferin said, “The general good must prevail over individual interests. This has always been my mantra, and I will never change.

“My daughter actually told me: ‘Father, sometimes I think you are a character from The Lord of the Rings.’ But I’m not,” Čeferin said. “I’m not interested in the ring.”

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