Former AC Milan and Croatia star Zvonimir Boban has quit as UEFA’s chief of football in protest over a controversial plan to let the governing body’s president Aleksander Ceferin extend his reign to 2031.
First elected as UEFA president in 2016, Ceferin brought in a raft of governance reforms a year later as part of an effort to move on from a series of scandals that dogged global football in the preceding years. One of those reforms was a three-term limit for all senior positions, including his own.
But it was confirmed at a meeting of UEFA’s executive committee in Hamburg last month that Ceferin now believes any terms started before 2017 should not count towards the limit, a change that would enable him to continue until 2031.
The decision was not universally welcomed, however, with UEFA treasurer David Gill voicing his concern during the meeting that this change would not be within the spirit of the rules. The former Manchester United chief executive is not considering his position, though.
Boban, on the other hand, has and he has decided to go.
In a statement published by Croatian media outlet Telegram on Thursday, Boban said: “Despite having expressed my deepest concern and total disapproval, the UEFA president does not consider there to be any legal issues with the proposed changes, let alone any moral or ethical ones, and he intends to move forward regardless in pursuit of his personal aspirations.”
“Ironically, it was the UEFA president himself that proposed and launched a set of reforms in 2017 which were introduced to prevent such a possibility.
“These rules were designed to protect UEFA and European football from the ‘bad governance’ which for years had unfortunately been the ‘modus operandi’ of what is often referred to as the ‘old system’ of football governance.
“The reforms were to football’s great credit, and that of the UEFA president. His shift away from these values is beyond comprehension.”
Boban finishes by saying it would “go against all the principles and values” he stands for if he tacitly backs the amendment to the rules, and adds that he is “not trying to be some sort of hero, especially as I am not alone in my thinking here”.
That last comment will be doubly ominous for Ceferin, as any change to the rules would need to be ratified by a majority of UEFA’s 55 member associations at their annual congress in Paris on February 8. As Boban notes, he is not the only senior official to be upset at the proposed move.
But the fact that Boban has acted first will have come as a shock to Ceferin, as the two men were previously considered to be close allies.
A sense of that shock can be detected in the terse statement issued by the Swiss-based governing body to confirm Boban’s exit.
Saying nothing about the reasons for the departure, UEFA simply notes his decision, lists some of the projects he led, thanks him for his service and wishes him luck for the future.
The background to this falling-out is the similar move made by FIFA president Gianni Infantino last year.
Like Ceferin, Infantino was first elected to run the game’s global governing body in 2016, when he introduced a three-term limit to senior positions at FIFA as well.
But an amendment was approved at the 2023 FIFA Congress in Rwanda that says only full, four-year terms count towards the limit, which means the clock for Infantino started in 2019, with his second election, not 2016 when he was completing a term started by the disgraced Sepp Blatter.
Ceferin, a criminal lawyer by trade and the former president of the Slovenian FA, does not often agree with Infantino when it comes to football but he appears to like his FIFA counterpart’s interpretation of term limits.
That said, there is far more opposition to his potential stay until 2031 within the UEFA family than there ever was from FIFA delegates to the idea of 15 years of Infantino, as Boban’s shock resignation suggests.
And in an interview with the Daily Telegraph this week, Ceferin denied that the proposed amendment was an attempt to hang onto power, saying it was more about tidying up the organisation’s rulebook.
He also said he has not yet decided if he wants to stay on past 2027, the end of his current, adding “to be honest, I am very tired”.
(Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
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