Turmoil inside Uefa as chief of football resigns over Aleksander Ceferin’s presidential power move

Aleksander Ceferin is coming under severe under pressure (Getty Images)
Aleksander Ceferin is coming under severe under pressure (Getty Images)

Turmoil inside Uefa fueled by its president Aleksander Ceferin's push to change statutes that would let him stay in office longer led to a first exit of a senior manager on Thursday.

Zvonimir Boban, the former Croatia and AC Milan great, cited his "total disapproval" for Ceferin's political power move in his decision to leave his job as Uefa’s chief of football after three years.

"It is with sorrow, and a heavy heart, I have no option but to leave Uefa," Boban said in a statement. "I am not trying to be some sort of hero, especially as I am not alone in my thinking here."

Boban's departure is the most public show of growing discontent with Ceferin's leadership since the Slovenian lawyer was re-elected unopposed last April to extend a presidency that started in 2016.

Uefa supported its disgraced former vice president Luis Rubiales in the furor after incidents at the Women's World Cup final in August. When Rubiales eventually resigned, Uefa publicly thanked him in a statement that gave no support to the Spanish players.

Uefa then tried to bring Russia national youth teams back into European competitions despite its own ban imposed within days of the military invasion of Ukraine. That plan was dropped within two weeks after a swath of member federations continued to insist they would not play games against Russia.

Rifts in Uefa’s executive committee were widened at a 2 December meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on the sidelines of the draw for the men's 2024 European Championship.

A proposal was made with Ceferin's approval to amend Uefa statutes that currently limit presidents to 12 years in office – an anti-corruption reform passed in fallout from the American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption in international football revealed in 2015. That scandal removed Michel Platini as Uefa president and opened a path to power for Ceferin.

The amendment would clarify that Ceferin's first three years in office – completing Platini's mandate through 2019 – would not count against his term limit of 12 years.

If it is approved by Uefa members at their 8 February congress in Paris, Ceferin could be a candidate in 2027 and stay in his £2m-per-year job as president for 15 years instead of the mandated 12.

Zvonimir Boban has walked away from his Uefa role (Getty Images)
Zvonimir Boban has walked away from his Uefa role (Getty Images)

Boban was not present in Hamburg when opposition to Ceferin was led by Uefa Treasurer David Gill, the former Manchester United CEO. Gill said he opposed the term limit extension on principle even though he himself could benefit from it to stay on as an executive committee member.

Boban's resignation letter published Thursday explained he had been unable to change Ceferin's mind.

"Despite having expressed my deepest concern and total disapproval," Boban wrote, "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."

The Uefa leader was praised by Boban for having backed reforms early in his presidency but that "his shift away from these values is beyond comprehension."

"I fully appreciate that nothing is ideal, let alone myself, and at times compromises may be necessary," Boban wrote. "However, being party to this would go against all the principles and values I wholeheartedly believe in and stand for."

Uefa said in a statement Boban left "by mutual agreement."

"Uefa extends its gratitude to Mr Boban for his dedicated service and wishes him the best of luck in his future career endeavors," the organization based in Nyon, Switzerland, said.

Boban was hired by Uefa after he left an executive position at his former club Milan. Boban previously was at Fifa, as deputy secretary general for football issues under its president Gianni Infantino.

Infantino, like Ceferin, also came to power in 2016 in the aftermath of the Fifa scandal that removed its then-president Sepp Blatter. Infantino had been Uefa general secretary for more than six years under Platini and stepped up as a candidate when his boss was implicated in the scandal.

Infantino already is secure in his ability to stay in office until 2031 despite a 12-year limit on presidents. Fifa already changed its statutes to ensure his 2016-19 period replacing Blatter does not count toward his 12 years.