Lennart Johansson oversaw momentous changes within football as UEFA President from 1990 to 2007 – in both the competitions and the way the sport is governed in Europe.
Article top media content
Love and feeling for football
Born on 5 November 1929 in Bromma, a suburb of Stockholm, Mr Johansson – Honorary President of UEFA from 2007 until his death – developed a love and feeling for football which never left him, and which helped guide him in taking decisions and reacting to developments which changed the shape of the sport.
As a boy, Mr Johansson, whose father was a carpenter, soon became enchanted with football. His initial contact with the game came in 1937, when he watched Sweden play England in a match heralding the opening of the Råsundastadion in Stockholm. "I went with my two brothers, and they were 20 years older than me," he reflected. "I remember that I was more interested in seeing where I could buy sausage and ice cream, and I was looking more at the public than the play."
He was a centre-half as a young player – "but not a very good one," said Mr Johansson. "As a child, I grew up during the war and there was nothing to play but football. Every day we played football." His club loyalties since his boyhood were firmly anchored to Swedish team AIK Solna, whom he eventually served as president. "It's definitely been a one-club love," he was to say.
After gaining his initial administrative experience with AIK, Mr Johansson came through the ranks in the Swedish Football Association (SvFF), and served as the association's president between 1984 and 1991. Establishing a reputation as a strong, capable leader who refused to shy away from difficult decisions, his skills were noticed at a wider, European level as he became involved in UEFA activities. Then, in April 1990, he received the supreme accolade, as he was elected as UEFA's fifth president at the Malta Congress, in succession to Frenchman Jacques Georges.
At the helm
Following his election, Mr Johansson presided over the complete reinvention of UEFA from a small-sized administrative operation into a dynamic and modern sports company. Over the years of his presidency, European club football's landscape was transformed with the introduction of the UEFA Champions League. The UEFA European Championship also rose massively in profile, with the finals field being increased to 16 teams for the 1996 tournament in England.
Political changes led to an increase in the number of UEFA member associations to more than 50. The world of football became big commercial and financial business – and Mr Johansson's UEFA kept pace with the developments. The European body also moved headquarters – from the Swiss federal capital Berne to Nyon, on the shores of Lake Geneva in western Switzerland.
Surprise at success
"It's quite something to be president of UEFA," said Mr Johansson. "I didn't even imagine that I could be president of the AIK club. I'm still surprised that I've reached certain positions." In 1998, Mr Johansson was a candidate for the position of FIFA president, but was defeated by the then FIFA General Secretary Joseph S Blatter.
Glow of pride
As Europe's senior football ambassador, Mr Johansson always felt a glow of pride when he thought of the people he met – kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, religious leaders – and the honours and awards that came his way. "I never get used to it," he admitted. "I am still very happy in a humble way that I have been so extremely well received."
Mr Johansson always stayed in touch with football in his later years. "If I see five boys playing in a meadow, I stop and watch them. The game also remains unpredictable. Sometimes you cry and sometimes you're happy. These are the things that make it such a great game and I am so proud to have played a part in supporting the game's success in Europe."
For the good of football
Lennart Johansson kept a simple philosophy about the game he adored. "At the end of every day, when I put my head on the pillow," he said, "I know that whatever decisions I've taken, whether people agree with them, I've taken for what I see as the good of football." Football will not see his like again.