Mehdi Bayat was elected as president of the Royal Belgian Football Association (URBSFA/KBVB) in June 2019.
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You were born in Iran and grew up and studied in France. How did your love affair with Belgian football begin?
In 2003, I joined Royal Charleroi SC as a commercial director. I then climbed up through the ranks within the national association, doing various jobs, before becoming president in June 2019. When you spend almost 20 years in a country, you end up becoming part of it – not just from an administrative perspective, but also, above all, in your heart. I now think of myself as Belgian, and I will soon be acquiring Belgian nationality.
In 2016, you were one of the instigators of Roberto Martínez’s recruitment as head coach of the national team. Tell us about that.
Together with my colleagues Gérard Linard [his predecessor as national association president] and Bart Verhaeghe, I issued a call for applications. And I’m glad that I did, because Roberto Martínez was not, in all honesty, someone who we would have instinctively thought of. When we met him for the first time, he was a real gentleman, and that has never changed. He’s extremely hard working, he’s humble, he lives and breathes football, and, above all, he has reinvented the position of head coach here in Belgium by getting heavily involved in all aspects of sporting preparation. It’s a real pleasure to work with someone who has that kind of passion.
Before being elected president, you were involved in drawing up that famous 11-point plan. Since then, it has been said that your role is more ‘ceremonial’ than in the past. What exactly does that mean?
We want the national association to operate in the same way that all major companies do. That is to say, we have Peter Bossaert, who is responsible for all day-to-day operations, and we have me as chairman of the board. My role involves scrutinising and checking things at the start of each cycle [with his term of office running until 2021], so as to decide which strategy to implement. That effectively began before my election with the 11-point plan, which seeks to implement real reforms in order to professionalise the operational structure of the national association for the long-term. We are 100% behind all of those initiatives, rather than just supporting particular projects. However, I also represent the national association in its dealings with international organisations such as UEFA, hence the use of the term ‘ceremonial’ in relation to my role.
This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 187