How UEFA president Ceferin crushed a Super League rebellion

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FILE - In this file photo dated Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin poses for a picture during an interview with The Associated Press in Lisbon, Portugal. Ceferin said Friday April 23, 2021, that the Spanish and Italian clubs still clinging to the Super League must disavow the breakaway or face being banned from the Champions League. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, FILE)

LONDON – A moment that prepared Aleksander Ceferin for the stresses and tensions running European football came three decades ago, in a far graver moment for the continent.

The law graduate was relaxing at his family home in Slovenia on June 25, 1991, sitting on the terrace with his parents, brother and sister and their partners when a man approached.

“He said ‘Aleksander Ceferin?' I said ‘Yes.' He said, ‘War has started. You go with us,'" Ceferin recalls. "It was crazy. I was shocked.”

Ceferin was conscripted just as his tiny nation, nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, declared independence from multi-ethnic Yugoslavia. The response from Belgrade was to send in forces to prevent the start of the bloody breakup of the federation.

“It finished very soon, in 10 days, but there was a lot of tension — day and night — and threats and bombs,” Ceferin says. “It’s an experience that helps you to survive if some people then try to destabilize you.”

The president of UEFA brought up the memory in an interview with The Associated Press in relation to the announcement last weekend of a renegade European Super League to rival the Champions League, and the belief he was betrayed by those previously thought to be trusted friends.

“Psychologically, it was such a shock for me,” he says from Ljubljana. “Similar to the war. You cannot compare, but both were stressful — the tension was similar."

Ceferin’s immediate task was to stop the 12 wealthiest clubs splitting to a closed competition that is the antithesis to European football norms.