ZAGREB, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Former UEFA president Lennart Johansson has been impressed with what Michel Platini has achieved in his first year in office since beating him in the presidential election.
Johansson, 78, who served 17 years as UEFA’s president until losing by 27-23 votes to Platini 12 months ago, was speaking before the start of this year’s Congress in the Croatian capital.
“I must say I have been very impressed with him,” Johansson, now UEFA’s honorary president, told reporters late on Wednesday.
“I look at him as a good friend. I didn’t know much about his abilities when he came into the administration, but I must say I am impressed. He has guts, he has the ideas, he is very open about them, and he is coming through with them.
“He is being supported by members of the executive and I must say it was not a bad change.
“The time had come for me to leave and I have no hard feelings against him.”
He singled out Platini’s biggest achievement as the agreement he has reached with the G14 group of rich and powerful clubs, ending their impasse with the ruling body. The clubs have decided to dissolve the G14, drop various court cases and become part of a new club association within UEFA.
“That is his biggest achievement,” Johansson said. “He has brought the football family together. It cost something for both parties, but they sat down together and worked it out, and it has been good for European football.”
Johansson admitted being upset after losing the presidency, but not with Platini.
“The people I am upset with are the ones who asked me to stay on and fight the election when I wanted to leave — and then turned away from me. But that’s life, you learn to live with it.”
He had one word of advice for his successor.
“He must remember, that sometimes a president has to learn not to be too controversial — leave that to someone else,” Johansson said.
Platini will make the keynote speech to the 32nd UEFA Congress on Thursday, focusing on his successes of the last 12 months.
As well as ending the dispute with G14, Platini has also set up the Professional Football Strategy Council involving clubs, UEFA, and others to deal directly with issues concerning the professional game.
He has also pushed through changes to the Champions League with more teams from middle-ranking countries due to take part from 2009-10.
The former French international has smoothed over the cracks which developed between Europe’s politicians and the game’s governing bodies, most notably becoming a link between FIFA and the European Union.
He has convinced EU governments of sport’s specific nature over issues such as rules on the number of locally trained players, while also convincing them to help solve problems such as violence, racism and match-fixing.
While Platini’s speech will be the centrepiece of the Congress at Zagreb’s Expo hall, there will also be a report on the feasibility of expanding the European Championship from 16 teams to either 20 or 24 teams from 2016.
Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ed Osmond