In UEFA's 60th year, we continue to look back over six decades with a review of the new millenium, when UEFA celebrated its Jubilee and kept pace with football's changes, and a new President took the helm.
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UEFA's 60th birthday this year gives us the opportunity to review six memorable decades of European football history. We have reached the new millennium, with UEFA striding ahead as an organisation keeping pace with the times and the European game continuing to make its mark through its competitions and the great players gracing them.
UEFA proudly celebrated its golden jubilee in 2004. The year featured a number of special events and activities, and each national association was asked by UEFA to nominate one of its own players as the single most outstanding player of the past 50 years. A host of memorable names were chosen, including Johan Cruyff, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás and Dino Zoff. In addition, Frenchman Zinédine Zidane was voted the number one European footballer of the past 50 years in UEFA's jubilee poll.
The UEFA Champions League continued to project an attractive sporting and commercial glow. Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona and AC Milan all won the trophy twice between 2000 and 2009, and were joined as champions in this period by FC Bayern München, FC Porto, Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC – whose astonishing 2005 success saw them come from three goals down at half-time to equalise and eventually beat Milan on penalties in a classic final. Brilliant players such as Madrid's Zidane, Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi headed the stellar names who thrilled the fans week in, week out.
On the national team scene, the EURO was awarded for the first time to two host countries – Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000. The destiny of the title was settled by a sudden-death golden goal in the final. France emerged victorious courtesy of David Trezeguet's extra-time strike, which brought them a 2-1 triumph over Italy in Rotterdam.
A genuine surprise took place in Portugal four years later. Greece went into the tournament as one of the underdogs. However, under the astute leadership of seasoned German coach Otto Rehhagel, the Greeks were a tightly disciplined and resilient proposition who overcame every hurdle. They beat the Portuguese hosts with an Angelos Charisteas header in the Lisbon final, and savoured glory beyond their wildest dreams. "When the referee ended the match, it was as if the lights went out," said Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis. "Another blank spot in my memory ... the constant smile of an idiot on my face for I don't know how many minutes ... unbelievable moments."
Co-hosts were chosen again for the 2008 final round – Austria and Switzerland. The victors were Spain, whose vibrant passing football proved too much for Germany in the Vienna final – Fernando Torres scoring the only goal, which began a glittering era for the Spanish, with the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012 soon to be added to their honours' list. "It was beautiful," said midfielder Xavi Hernández. "Perhaps that's a word used too often in football, but the truth is that the football we played to win in 2008 was beautiful. We won playing a style of touch football combined with talented players."
The early part of the new millennium saw UEFA's administrative set-up overhauled, and UEFA General Secretary Gerhard Aigner became CEO. New priorities were set as UEFA moved even further away from being an administrative body to a dynamic business in tune with new times. Gerhard Aigner proved an outstanding head of the UEFA administration for over 14 years, and when he retired at the end of 2003, Sweden's Lars-Christer Olsson was appointed as chief executive. With Olsson joining long-standing UEFA President Lennart Johansson, two Swedes headed UEFA for its 50th birthday festivities.
During this period, dialogue was increased with the clubs and professional leagues, while UEFA maintained its unbreakable bond with its member associations, which numbered 52 in 2002. UEFA pursued its quest for greater legal certainty for sport and the recognition of sport's specificity within the framework of EU legislation. The UEFA club licensing system was an important innovation – in place in time for the 2004/05 season, and aiming to provide a framework for clubs to run themselves more efficiently.
The UEFA Ordinary Congress in Dusseldorf in January 2007 brought a new man to the helm of European football. Frenchman Michel Platini, whose gifts as a player had earned him three European Footballer of the Year awards and a EURO title as France captain on home soil in 1984, had moved into football administration with aplomb, and he was elected as UEFA President. Lennart Johansson, who had guided UEFA through a momentous 17-year span, was named honorary UEFA president. "Football is a treasure, a simple and popular game. I am prepared to protect and defend this treasure," was Mr Platini's call after his election. "I will be the passionate and unprejudiced servant of the football we all love. We will work together to develop it, taking care not only to preserve its heritage, but also and more importantly to enrich it." Scotland's David Taylor was appointed UEFA General Secretary soon after the new UEFA President came into office.
Michel Platini's presidency began with fresh harmony within the European game. The launch of the European Club Association (ECA) and the signing in January 2008 of a memorandum of understanding between the new body and UEFA paved the way for a new era of positive relations. Changes were made to the UEFA competition formats. In September 2008, UEFA decided to increase the EURO field to 24 from 2016 – giving more national associations the chance to target European glory. From the 2009/10 campaign, the venerable UEFA Cup was replaced after 37 years by the UEFA Europa League, involving a 48-team group stage and breathing new sporting and commercial life into European club football's second major competition. The burgeoning development of women's football and futsal led to the introduction of European club competitions in both sectors.
Intensive dialogue with the European Union continued apace. UEFA was also listening to the fans, and a first-ever meeting between supporter groups and the European body took place in 2007. The battle against doping, corruption and illegal betting in football went on unabated. Unstinting work was carried out in various social and humanitarian areas, including the fight against racism and partnerships were forged with specific bodies, UEFA believing that football can be used as a force to benefit society. In another crucial move, in September 2009, the UEFA Executive Committee approved a financial fair play concept designed to curb growing financial excesses across the European club landscape and to safeguard European club football's stability.
In the same month, the UEFA Executive Committee approved the creation of a new company – UEFA Events SA – to be responsible for UEFA's business and commercial operations. David Taylor was appointed as chief executive of the new company as of 1 October 2009, and Gianni Infantino was installed as UEFA General Secretary. Time never stood still as UEFA, 50 years 'young', kept moving on with confidence …