UEFA election candidates: Michael van Praag vs. Aleksander Ceferin
European football nations gather in Athens on Sept. 14 to elect a new UEFA president to replace Michel Platini, who is currently banned from all football-related activity for four years.
Following the withdrawal of Spaniard Angel Maria Villar last week, the election is a two horse race between Dutchman Michael van Praag and Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin who are both promising to initiate major changes.
All UEFA's 55 members have a vote each in the secret ballot. If no candidate gets an absolute majority in the first round (more than half of the votes cast) then a second round of voting will take place with a simple majority determining the winner.
Here we assess the prospects of the two rivals vying for European football's top job.
Name: Michael van Praag
Job: President of the Dutch Football Association and a UEFA executive committee member.
Advantages: A seasoned campaigner who knows European football inside out, Van Praag is one of the game's most accomplished administrators. He is not afraid to speak his mind and has already criticised UEFA for "excessive spending" vowing to initiate a major financial review to cut costs if elected. He was also a fierce critic of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and stood in the election to replace him last year before withdrawing.
As former president of Ajax, he has a sound understanding of what top level clubs require, which will help him to bridge the gap between them and UEFA. Van Praag was also instrumental in initiating the recent changes to the Champions League format, which guaranteed four teams in the competition from each of the continent's top four leagues, staving off (for the time being at least) a potential European Super League He has been involved with UEFA since 1998, sitting on numerous committees.
Disadvantages: Questions will be asked if he is able to handle such a demanding job. Van Praag has already stated that he will quit in 2019, when Platini's term was originally due to end.
Despite clocking up the air miles and being held in high esteem within the game, few of the continent's big nations and football figures have come out in favour of him.
Van Praag has been reluctant to publicly declare who is supporting him, with the English FA the only major one to reveal its backing -- possibly the kiss of death given that it historically opts for the wrong man in elections.
He has some good ideas but doubts linger over whether all of UEFA's members will rally around him to make them happen. Smaller nations seem to view him with suspicion and wonder if he has their best interests at heart, given his close connections to the continent's big clubs, support for the recent Champions League changes and former leadership of the G14, the body that once represented the continent's biggest teams.
The European Professional Football League, the umbrella body that represents the continent's professional leagues, also recently critcised UEFA for the changes to its top competition.
Summary: A safe pair of hands who could implement meaningful change without upsetting the status quo too much within the European game.
Name: Aleksander Ceferin
Job: President of the Slovenian Football Association.
Advantages: Little known beyond his home nation, Ceferin has been heralded as the new kid on the block, brimming with fresh ideas, and has emerged as favourite to land the UEFA presidency.
His absence of pedigree within European football's governing body and FIFA has actually been his biggest selling point, with his supporters claiming that he is free of the "baggage" that many of the game's top administrators carry currently.
Ceferin has fought a strong campaign so far and has cashed on his image as the outsider who will be a breath of fresh air in the staid world of top level football politics, winning the backing of some of UEFA's most powerful members including France, Germany, Portugal and Turkey as well as the majority of Eastern European nations.
He has also been championing the cause of UEFA's smaller countries in particular, insisting that he will ensure that all will have opportunities to participate in lucrative competitions such as the Champions League alongside the continent's big sides. A trained lawyer, he has also vowed to introduce greater transparency within UEFA and set up a new compliance committee as well as introducing term limits for senior officials.
Disadvantages: It was all going swimmingly for Ceferin until publication last week of an investigation by Norwegian football magazine Josimar which suggested that his candidacy was being supported by FIFA president Gianni Infantino. It also claimed that in return for their support for Ceferin, Scandinavian nations have been promised the 2024 or 2028 European Championships and a UEFA vice-president position.
None of the nations that publicly backed Ceferin have yet to change their minds but the story has cast aspersions on his claims to be a genuine outsider who is unconnected to established football cliques. Though it is unlikely to have a hugely damaging impact when it comes to the vote in Athens.
His lack of experience may count against him and while some big UEFA nations are with him, others may feel that he does not have the connections or the ability to hold such a high-profile position.
Summary: The untried and untested outsider who will leave some of UEFA's big guns uneasy about the future if, as anticipated, he's victorious.
Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport