England is backing Michael van Praag in next week’s election to succeed Michel Platini as president of UEFA. The 68-year-old Van Praag is in a head-to-head contest with Slovenian soccer federation leader Aleksander Ceferin. Angel Maria Villar of Spain withdrew from the race on Tuesday.
English Football Association vice chairman David Gill said Wednesday that Van Praag “would be able to provide the strong and credible leadership European football requires at a crucial moment for the global game.” The UEFA vote by 55 member federations will be Sept. 14 in Athens.
Van Praag is the “right choice to bring all aspects of the European game closer together,” said Gill, who like Van Praag is among UEFA’s vice presidents. France and Germany have backed Ceferin, who has also attracted support in eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Poland’s federation led by Zbigniew Boniek, a former teammate of Platini at Juventus also came out for Ceferin on Wednesday.
Tensions between the two candidates have risen ahead of attending meetings on Thursday with voters in Copenhagen. Responding to a Norwegian magazine’s investigation into Ceferin’s alleged alliance with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Van Praag wrote on Twitter that UEFA did not need a “power hungry politician.”
Denmark’s federation, which hosts the candidates on Thursday, had welcomed Ceferin’s candidacy in June in a joint letter with regional neighbors Sweden, Finland and Norway. The four nations are also preparing a co-hosting bid for the 2024 European Championship. Still, the Danish federation and national league made a joint statement Wednesday that they also want to discuss UEFA’s recently agreed changes to the Champions League for the 2018-21 seasons.
The deal guarantees more entries and tens of millions of dollars in prize money to clubs from the top four-ranked leagues currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy at the expense of mid-ranked countries like Denmark. The Danish soccer bodies said they shared “great dissatisfaction with the process.”
“The process was wrong, the result is wrong,” Danish league CEO Claus Thomsen said. “A fundamental change of the format has been rushed through UEFA and the ECA (European Club Association) even though a new UEFA President will be elected in a week’s time and even though there are no publicly elected leadership in UEFA.”
Van Praag and Ceferin both say they oppose Europe’s top clubs breaking away to form a Super League. However, Danish officials say they fear a de facto Super League created within UEFA in partnership with elite clubs.