Aleksander Ceferin has been elected as the new president of UEFA after winning the necessary number of pledges at the governing body’s congress in Athens.
Ceferin, the head of the Slovenian Football Association, was elected ahead of his only rival, Dutchman Michael van Praag, after winning 42 pledges – 14 more than the 28 vote majority needed.
The 48-year-old lawyer replaces former president Michel Platini, who resigned from the role last year after receiving an eight-year ban from all football activity for breaching rules over a £1.3m payment from former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
The French three-time Ballon d’Or winner protested his innocence in an address to the congress ahead of the election and claimed that his “conscience is clear” over the payment.
Ceferin becomes just the seventh president in the 62-year history of UEFA and will now take on the remainder of Platini’s term, which is due to end in 2019.
“Dear friends, thank you for your fantastic support,” Ceferin said in a speech to the congress. “It is a great honour but at the same time a great responsibility. It means a lot to me. My family is very proud about it.
“My small and beautiful Slovenia is also proud about it. I hope one day you will also be proud of me. Thank you very much.”
Ceferin, who is known to oppose the recent changes to the Champions League format, in which the big four nations – England, Germany, Spain and Italy – are set to be granted half of the 32 places in the competition, built a coalition that combined near total support from Europe’s smaller nations, although he also had the heavyweight backing of more traditional powers such as France, Germany and Italy.
He added: “Obviously people wanted changes and new faces, and you’ve seen what happened today. The big, medium and small associations were all asking for the same things and I might sound naive but I think they believe in my programme.”
Although the English FA threw its voting hat behind Van Praag, Greg Clarke does not believe it will have an adverse effect on the relationship between the new head of European football and England’s governing body.
Clarke, who replaced Greg Dyke as FA chairman earlier this summer, said: “I don’t think so. He’s a bigger man than that.
“I think he’ll bring football together, take tough decisions and drive European football forward.
“It was not a choice between good and bad but between two good candidates.
“We were comfortable with the decision. He gave a good speech, he’s held in high esteem and he can count on the support of the FA.”
Asked whether he thinks the newly-elected Ceferin will look to boost the smaller European nations at the expense of the larger ones, such as England with its powerful Premier League, Clarke was equally unconcerned.
He added: “It’s one country, one vote, so it would be sensible of him to reach out to the bigger nations as well as the smaller nations.
“We must give the smaller nations respect. He’ll do that and we’ll do it too.
“But he will face the conflict between doing what’s right to get the maximum media value, and doing what the natural justice of football deserves. It’s a trade off.”
Unlike in England, the Scottish FA did back Ceferin, and its chief executive Stewart Regan was full of praise for the new president: “He visited us in Glasgow a few weeks ago and talked us through his manifesto.
“He was keen to unite all 55 associations behind a common vision and we believe he was the best candidate to unite UEFA.
“He’s a successful lawyer, runs his own company back home in Slovenia, and obviously impressed people on his travels.”