UEFA presidential front-runner Aleksander Ceferin has angrily rejected suggestions from rival Michael van Praag that he is a “power-hungry politician” who cannot be trusted and instead claimed the Dutchman is “making up stories to pollute the pre-election” period.
Van Praag criticised Ceferin in three tweets that referenced a Swedish online article that claims the 48-year-old Slovenian’s candidacy is being supported by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, contrary to rules which state the boss of world football’s governing body must stay out of confederation-level politics.
The article, posted on the Josimar website and titled “The President’s Man,” also suggested Ceferin had gained support from Scandinavian football associations by promising them the European Championships in 2024 or 2028, and offering a senior UEFA role for Swedish FA president Karl-Erik Nilsson.
Van Praag, the 68-year-old president of the Dutch FA, is quoted in the article saying he had heard rumours that Infantino’s new strategic director Kjetil Siem, who had previously been the secretary general of the Norwegian FA, had lobbied for Ceferin on the FIFA president’s behalf at a key meeting of Nordic FAs in Milan in May.
Siem told Josimar that he was only at that meeting to tell his former colleagues that he was moving on and to bid his farewells, and FIFA has issued a statement to say he was there on Norwegian FA business as he had not started his new role yet.
But Van Praag tweeted on Tuesday that he was “shocked’ after reading the Josimar article.
Ceferin, who was invited to the meeting by the Nordic FAs to discuss his then-potential run for UEFA’s top job, has told Press Association Sport the article “is almost completely not true” and has forwarded an email to demonstrate some of the misquotations attributed to other contributors to Josimar’s report.
The Slovenian FA president, a practising lawyer, also said “it is a lie” Siem told him he had Infantino’s support at that Milan meeting, claiming Siem did not even mention Infantino, who was UEFA’s general secretary from 2009 until his election as FIFA president this February.
“I never promised the Nordics that they will host any Euro,” he added. “Everybody knows that that is decided by the [executive committee] and not by the president — they never said that they will place a bid for the Euro.
“I never promised Karl-Erik Nilsson he would become an ExCo member, again it is obvious that ExCo members are voted by the congress and not appointed by the president.”
He did, however, admit that a friend at FIFA had asked him to provide a reference for fellow Slovene Tomaz Vesel, who Infantino has just appointed as chairman of the key FIFA audit and compliance committee, the body that effectively polices the scandal-hit federation.
“You can judge for yourself who has the methods of the old school,” continued Ceferin. “The one who meets federations, presents a programme and gets public support, or the one who is making up stories trying to pollute the pre-election time and desperately trying to get at least some support?”
Ceferin first emerged as a contender to replace Michel Platini in May, soon after the Frenchman failed in his attempt to overturn a ban from football that resulted from his part in the corruption scandal that also ended Sepp Blatter’s long reign as FIFA boss.
Almost completely unknown outside of Slovenia, where he has been involved in football for a decade, Ceferin has built a reputation as a moderniser and an able negotiator, who lacks any links to FIFA or UEFA’s recent troubled past.
As a result, he has quietly managed to gather expressions of support from across Europe, including Germany, France and Russia. The latter’s backing has worried some observers, though, as they remain deeply suspicious of how Russia won the right to host the 2018 World Cup and its ability to stage a safe and successful competition.
Ceferin has said little about that subject, only that he wants to speak for all and to all 55 member associations of UEFA.
The vote, which also has Spanish football chief Angel Maria Villar on the ballot, takes place at an extraordinary congress in Athens on Sept. 14.