Six key questions for UEFA presidential candidates van Praag and Ceferin
The winner of Wednesday's election in Athens for the UEFA presidency will take over an organisation at a critical juncture amid growing demands from wealthy clubs for greater income from high-profile tournaments like the Champions League, rumours of a breakaway Super League and calls from smaller nations for greater financial equality.
Two men are competing for the right to replace disgraced former president Michel Platini, who is banned from all football-related activity for four years: Dutch Football Association president Michael van Praag and Aleksander Ceferin, head of the Slovenian FA.
ESPN FC caught up with both to ask about their plans, should they emerge victorious in the race to lead the world's richest and most powerful continental football body.
1. How many of UEFA's 55 members are supporting you?
Aleksander Ceferin: I have more than half of all member associations supporting me. I can't estimate the number of votes I will receive, but if they have made their support public I guess they must be serious about voting for me.
Michael van Praag: I have no fixed number. As the president of an association, I know that even when someone might be publicly backing you, it does not mean they will actually vote for you.
2. If you are elected president, what are the three main things you would change about how European football is run?
Ceferin: First and foremost, I will look to change to the UEFA statutes to include term-mandate limitations for the president and UEFA executive committee. I don't believe that officials serving for 20 or more years in such key positions is healthy for any organisation. I would put more emphasis on battling match fixing, which is a disease on our sport, by introducing more security and integrity. Thirdly, I would change the bidding process for big competitions and finals for the Champions League, European Championship and other major events. This needs to become completely transparent.
Van Praag: I would implement a cost-reduction programme because there is a lot of wasteful spending within UEFA on things like luxury hotels, business class flights for officials and expensive marketing programmes. I would appoint outside consultants to ensure that money is spent more wisely. Secondly, I would look at the way money is distributed amongst the members to ensure that smaller, poorer nations receive more funding for football development and facilities. Thirdly, I would introduce term limits for the president and executive committee.
3. Do you believe that the recent changes to the Champions League format (with Europe's top four leagues to have four participants each) are good for the European game?
Ceferin: I was not an advocate of this because, in the long run, it will be harder for smaller countries to qualify for the group stage. It is only the big leagues that will benefit. For me the current setup of the Champions League was ideal. But now the changes have been set in stone. After a while we will have to assess them again, but it's too early at the moment.
Van Praag: This is something that the sponsors, television companies and both big and small clubs wanted because they all stand to earn more from the Champions League. I'm confident that UEFA has made the right decision and it has helped to keep the solidarity of the European football family. All the stakeholders agreed to this change and it wasn't simply a case that it was the big clubs pressurising us.
4. Do you fear that there could be a breakaway European Super League?
Ceferin: I hope that the changes to the Champions League format have killed the idea of a European Super League, because that wouldn't be good thing for football.
Van Praag: The financial success of the Premier League triggered big clubs on the continent to start talking about the European Super League again. For the time being, I believe that the changes to the Champions League format have ended this idea. But we will have to see what happens in the future, as they only take us up to 2021.
5. Do some of Europe's top clubs and leagues have too much power and influence within UEFA?
Ceferin: It's hard for me to talk about this because I have never been a UEFA insider. But the big clubs are fighting for a bigger share; they are the ones that are proposing changes and we need to make sure that this does not disrupt the balance of European football. We need to ensure that the continent's game stays the best in the world and that it continues to grow. My aim is to find the perfect balance so that everybody is as happy as they can be.
Van Praag: No. I have extensive experience of serving on various UEFA committees and also know its relationship to the big clubs, given my role with Ajax (former chairman) and being the former head of the G14 (the body that represented Europe's biggest clubs). UEFA is a very democratic organisation; one member, one vote and that's how it should be.
6. Would you try to reduce the financial gap that has emerged between Europe's major leagues and the others?
Ceferin: We need to make a thorough analysis of the current situation so that we can prevent this gap from increasing. It is not good for the European game. Media and sponsorship rights are a major part of a club's income, so it is hard for UEFA to intervene in this respect. Financial fair play that is in place is one mechanism but we need to examine if there's anything more that can be done.
Van Praag: The gap is getting wider and wider, particularly with foreign investors from China and the Middle East getting involved with Europe's top clubs. I would call all the parties involved in football together -- the leagues, agents, clubs and the business groups -- to see what we can do to tackle the situation to ensure more financial balance within the European game. This is one of the important issues facing UEFA.
Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport