UEFA President Lennart Johansson is proud of the many honours he has received.
By Mark Chaplin
UEFA President Lennart Johansson's achievements in football have earned him some of the highest honours that a country can bestow upon a citizen.
These have included the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in Gold in South Africa, the Order of Friendship given to him by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the Order of Merit of the First Degree from the Ukraine, and the major German honour, the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, presented by Germany's interior minister Otto Schily.
The esteem in which he is held in his native Sweden clearly moves him the most. In 2003, he was named 'Sports Leader of the Century' and the 'Illis Quorum' gold medal with the inscription "Illis quorum meruere labores" ("For those whose labours have deserved it"), recently presented by the Swedish government, makes him swell with pride. "That was quite something, because this award is not given very often," he said. "I must say that above all of the other awards, this is No1."
Mr Johansson's awards occupy pride of place in a special cabinet in his home. "I don't wear them, but my grandchildren in particular like to look at them," he said. When he surveys the cabinet, he can rest easy in the knowledge that he is held in endless regard by countless people for a lifetime's dedication to football, as a senior figure within the AIK Solna club, and then as Swedish Football Association president, UEFA President and FIFA vice-president. "You're honoured and touched to receive awards, because they have not been given to me just by way of a tradition," he said. "People think that I have done something for the benefit of football, or for their country. It's a specific feeling."
Mr Johansson's family and close friends - the people who have provided the solid foundations on which he has been able to build his distinguished career - feel similar pride in his achievements. But it seems that the younger ones in the family focus more intently on the moment when - rather than receiving the honours and applause himself - he is handing out the trophies and medals at the end of major European finals.
'Royalty comes second'
"Of course, they're excited if they see me with royalty, but they're even more excited if they see me shaking hands with David Beckham or Luís Figo," he said. "I get asked things like: 'Do you really know him?' 'Did you really talk to him?' or 'Could you fix it so I could get a shirt from him?' Their idols are the players, and in that respect, royalty comes second."
When the day comes for retirement, and Mr Johansson has more time to stop and watch youngsters kicking a ball about, as he often likes to do, he will hold cherished memories of the famous faces he has seen, the time spent with them, and the prizes he has earned. There will be perhaps just one item of personal sadness. "You know, I always think it's a pity that my father is not alive," he reflected. "He would have liked to have seen all this." The big man from the north has done his father, and football, proud.
This is an abridged version of an article which appears in Champions, the official UEFA Champions League magazine. Click here to subscribe.