European soccer split as UEFA elects new president

Sun Sep 11, 2016 10:21pm EDT
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By Brian Homewood

ZURICH (Reuters) - UEFA elects a new president on Wednesday whose main task will be to stop what European officials say is an inexorable slide toward a breakaway soccer Super League open only to wealthy clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester City.

Aleksander Ceferin, a lawyer from Slovenia, and Dutchman Michael van Praag, an experienced soccer administrator, are the only candidates for a job which will essentially involve keeping European soccer intact in its current form.

The election, which will be held in Athens, has been called after former president Michel Platini was banned last October as FIFA's ethics committee investigated allegations of unethical conduct.

Platini, banned for four years, finally resigned in May after exhausting the appeal process and the power vacuum allowed the big clubs to negotiate changes to the flagship Champions League in their favor.

Those were finalised last month when UEFA opened up more places to teams from Europe's biggest four leagues -- effectively Spain, England, Germany and Italy –- in the competition’s lucrative group stage and cut those allocated to the rest.

Faced with the possibility of the big clubs forming their own Super League, UEFA said it had managed to “keep it in the family” but the move infuriated many clubs and leagues from outside the main countries.

Both candidates criticized the way in which the Champions League changes were made.

However, as so often happens in the secretive world of soccer politics where officials like to keep their options close to their chests, they were cagey on whether they would try to reverse the changes if elected.   Continued...

A logo is pictured on UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, April 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse