Commentary

UEFA presidential favorite is unhappy with establishment

UEFA will elect a new president on Wednesday in Greece to replace barred Michel Platini. The heavy favorite is Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin, but he is unhappy how Europe's governing body caved in to demands of clubs from Europe's big four leagues.

For years, there has been talk of a breakaway "super league," but UEFA has held off the top clubs. Recently, UEFA agreed to give Spain, Germany, England and Italy 16 of the 32 places in the group stage of the Champions League.

Until now, they could have received a maximum of 15 places, assuming four teams won their playoff series. The 2016-17 season kicked off on Tuesday with 14 teams from the big four. (Roma lost its playoff.)

Ceferin viewed threats that leading clubs could break away to form a closed competition as a bluff, warning that a Super League for the elite and rich is "out of the question," and would create a "war with UEFA."

Ceferin and Dutchman Michael van Praag are the only two candidates for the UEFA presidency in Wednesday's election, but sources told the BBC that Ceferin has close to 40 pledges of support from UEFA's 55 members.

Ceferin, a lawyer, says he's not part of the soccer establishment, which explains his opposition to several major UEFA initiatives.

He'll have to oversee Euro 2020, spread over 13 cities across the continent, to his dismay. The big issue, though, is the how teams are allocated to the Champions League.

Sixteen teams from the big four leaves only 16 from the rest of Europe -- 51 members. Ceferin's beef isn't just how it hurts champions from smaller countries like his native Slovenia, but how the change was decided ahead of the election.

"The problem is we didn't know anything that was going on — that shouldn't happen again," Ceferin told the Associated Press in an interview. "It's not frustrating just for me; it's frustrating for all 55 national associations ... there was a group who decided, and the lack of communication is the main problem why clubs and national associations are mad now."

The alternative is a "closed" European club competition, something Ceferin doesn't want.

"[The Super League threat] is a bargaining chip," Ceferin said. "I am sure they do not want to leave UEFA and UEFA's competitions. It would be boring to play in some closed league and it will mean war with UEFA. They pushed it more because we didn't have any leadership and that was a problem with UEFA."

Spaniard Angel Maria Villar was named interim president on October 2015 after Platini was suspended in a scandal over a payment from FIFA. Villar was the third candidate to replace the Frenchman but recently withdrew.
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