By Mark Chaplin
Just because no EURO final round is taking place this year, and the UEFA Golden Jubilee celebrations have reached their conclusion - there is no way that UEFA's management and staff can put their feet up in 2005.
With a variety of issues to confront for the benefit of the overall European game, UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson and his team have plenty on their plates - while casting a satisfied eye back to a memorable 2004.
UEFA EURO 2004™ broke all kinds of records, and UEFA was also able to wallow in nostalgia and set the course for the future. For UEFA's CEO, 2004 was also a crucial bedding-in year after taking over from Gerhard Aigner on the latter's retirement at the end of 2003.
"It's been a very interesting year, with several successes," he told uefa.com. "The new format of the UEFA Champions League, and on top of that the European Championships. I don't think that many would live through a year with such pleasure."
He added: "The way that Gerhard Aigner prepared the way forward has been excellent. He did an excellent job over so many years. My first year has been a kind of honeymoon, I'm very happy." Mr Olsson also appreciates the support of his compatriot, UEFA President Lennart Johansson. "I think if a journalist woke us up in the night, simultaneously we would give the same answers - we have the same views on football matters, it's 100 per cent trust."
The Champions League and UEFA Cup have been revamped in recent times. While one maintains its massive sporting and commercial appeal, the other is not yet ripe for a verdict. "I think the decision on the Champions League was a good decision - a sporting and financial success," Mr Olsson said. "It is an exciting tournament, and the best teams in European club football are playing in it. It is perhaps too early to say too much about the new UEFA Cup format, but what we've heard so far is positive."
A variety of topics are now on UEFA's table. For example, the new club licensing scheme designed to improve football's financial and administrative health. "[The system] has already proved to be good, because many of the cases of financial difficulties [with clubs] that we had before have disappeared," the CEO said. "There is a more sound way of treating finances within the clubs, and that was the objective."
Proposals on locally-trained players are also in the pipeline, with Mr Olsson in confident mood on this topic. "We have had a long period of consultation, but the vast majority are in favour of introducing this scheme," he explained. "We've also heard some positive noises from the politicians in Brussels, because I think they all recognise that something has to be done to make the playing field more level in football."
He added: "One of our [other] main activities is WOMEN'S EURO 2005 in England. Now
I think it is time for women's football to take a step into the professional world. I hope we can take a significant step [in England]."
'We are transparent'
The CEO was quick to dispel the view that UEFA is a cold, uncommunicative body, saying: "We are transparent, and I think that is coming through - we are showing all our figures, we know exactly where the money goes, we know exactly our priorities."
And as 2005 takes shape, what is Mr Olsson's main football hope for the year? He replied: "The most important thing is to keep the football family together - to find solutions that are acceptable to the professional side, and to generate resources for the grassroots." UEFA's future is in calm, careful hands.
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