In tune with a new football world

To celebrate UEFA's 60th birthday we take a look back at the 1990s, when football expanded, Europe changed politically and UEFA competitions were restructured.

Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjær celebrates his dramatic winner in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final
Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjær celebrates his dramatic winner in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final ©Getty Images

The 1990s were marked by explosive growth in European football. Developments in areas such as television, business and finance, marketing, sponsorship and global communication changed the entire shape of the game.

The decade began with two events that were of considerable significance for UEFA's future. In April 1990, Sweden's Lennart Johansson was elected the fifth UEFA President at the Malta Congress and was to steer UEFA's course through this new football world over the next 17 years.

Then, in September 1991, an Extraordinary UEFA Congress in Montreux, Switzerland, decided to revamp the European Champion Clubs' Cup. It was felt that the existing draw system produced too many one-sided matches, as well as uncertainty for clubs when it came to planning or maximising commercial opportunities.

Consequently the competition's format changed for 1991/92, with two knockout rounds followed by two groups of four quarter-finalists and a final between the two group winners. UEFA selected a partner – Swiss-based firm TEAM Marketing – to handle the centralised marketing of the competition. It took several years, for contractual and statutory reasons, before the Champion Clubs' Cup could be completely renamed the UEFA Champions League. However, the competition was played from 1992/93 with its own distinctive logo and musical theme. The format was fine-tuned in the following seasons, with the number of participants increasing to 16 in the 1994/95 season and 24 in 1997/98.

With exclusive TV rights on offer, combined with top-notch sponsorship and suppliers, the UEFA Champions League enjoyed glittering success as the exploits of the world's football stars thrilled fans both in the stadiums and on television.

In the 1990s, Europe's premier club competition produced an array of winners – AC Milan (1990, 1994), FK Crvena zvezda (1991), FC Barcelona (1992), Olympique de Marseille (1993), AFC Ajax (1995), Juventus (1996), Borussia Dortmund (1997), Real Madrid CF (1998) and Manchester United FC (1999). The last of those victories was certainly the most memorable. In a gripping finale in Barcelona, FC Bayern München were one goal ahead and ready to celebrate victory when Manchester United struck back with two goals in added time to clinch a remarkable win.

"If you're going to do something special, doing so as late as that is fantastic," said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "It wasn't an accident because that team did it so many times that season. They had a fantastic desire to win. They had a great team spirit, a great character about the team, and they deserved to win simply because they kept doing it."

As the UEFA Champions League grew in commercial and sporting stature, the end of the 1990s brought changes to Europe's other club competitions as well. UEFA decided to stop organising the Cup Winners' Cup after the 1998/99 season, merging the competition with the UEFA Cup, whose list of participants grew stronger as a result.

Moreover, as of 1998 the UEFA Super Cup, which featured the winners of the UEFA Champions League and the Cup Winners' Cup (replaced by the winners of the UEFA Cup as of 2000), was contested on a single-leg basis in Monaco. The UEFA Intertoto Cup – a summer route to the UEFA Cup – began in 1995, while the UEFA Regions' Cup for amateur teams was launched in 1999.

Increasing attention was being paid to futsal, and the indoor game acquired its own European Championship in 1999. Women's football was also flourishing, with the UEFA Women's EURO held every two years and tactical and technical prowess improving with each competition. There were also constant developments in youth football, with age groups and the timing of tournaments being adjusted in response to the wishes of the national associations and changes to international calendars.

On the national team scene, eight teams took part in EURO '92 in Sweden, which produced an unexpected result. UEFA decided that Yugoslavia would not be allowed to take part in the wake of United Nations sanctions, so Denmark – the runners-up in Yugoslavia's qualifying group – were invited to replace them. To general surprise the buoyant Danes won the title, beating favourites Germany 2-0 in the final in Gothenburg.

"I should have been putting in a new kitchen, but we were called away to play in Sweden," recalled Denmark's coach Richard Møller Nielsen. "It really sank in when we were in Copenhagen in the town hall for the celebrations with the rest of Denmark," added goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, a brilliant mainstay of the team. "That was unbelievable, truly unbelievable. At this point, you're thinking: 'We actually did this; it's not a dream.'"

UEFA, recognising the prestige and attractiveness of its European Championship, decided to increase the number of final-round participants to 16 for the 1996 edition. "Football's Coming Home" was an appropriate slogan as England, the cradle of the game, staged an exciting tournament, culminating in Germany beating the Czech Republic 2-1 in the final courtesy of a golden goal, a new sudden-death rule whereby the first team to score in extra time won the match.

"That was new – a goal is scored and immediately it's all over," said Germany captain Jürgen Klinsmann. "It was a strange feeling, and we didn't know how to react. You first had to try to digest it, and then, of course, we started to party."

Elsewhere, new countries began to emerge in eastern Europe in the early 1990s, and new associations, national teams and clubs were born, particularly in the former USSR. UEFA met this challenge by helping the new associations to find their feet in sporting and infrastructure terms. As football became more commercially driven, UEFA continued to reinvest the funds generated by its activities, ploughing them back into the game for the benefit of all of its associations – who numbered 36 in 1990 and 51 by the end of the decade. UEFA also took steps to improve safety and security at football matches, with strict rules being introduced requiring all spectators to be seated at UEFA matches.

The process of political integration in western Europe during the 1990s led to closer links between UEFA and the European Union on various issues, including cross-border TV broadcasts. In 1995, the Bosman ruling by the European Court of Justice meant that UEFA – and European football as a whole – had to make far-reaching changes to regulations and policies on international transfers, as well as the fielding of foreign players by clubs.

Given UEFA's growth over the years, the organisation eventually needed to move to bigger premises. In April 1993, the UEFA Executive Committee decided to relocate from Berne to Nyon in western Switzerland. UEFA was given the opportunity to buy land on the banks of Lake Geneva and build modern headquarters. In spring 1995, UEFA – whose staff numbered 65 at that point – moved to temporary premises in Nyon while the new building was constructed. The impressive House of European Football officially opened for business in October 1999 – just in time for the new millennium.