On Wednesday, European football associations will gather in Athens to elect a successor to disgraced former president Michel Platini.
The election became necessary after former French midfield star Platini received a four-year ban from all footballing activities following a Fifa investigation.
Just over a week ago, Uefa, European football’s governing body, said all three candidates put forward had passed Fifa’s eligibility checks, which looked into their backgrounds.
“Aleksander Ceferin, Michael van Praag and Angel Maria Villar — who will be running for the position of Uefa president and would thus automatically become Fifa vice-president — have all complied with the eligibility requirements,” Uefa said.
But since then, Villar, who is acting president, withdrew, saying he wanted to concentrate on his candidature to be re-elected as head of the Spanish federation.
His withdrawal means the race becomes a straight contest between Van Praag, the 68-year-old president of the Dutch federation, and Ceferin, who heads the Slovenian one.
The 49-year-old Slovenian very much represents the “new face” of football, though his critics have accused him of being too close to Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
A report in a Swedish newspaper said that Infantino had backed him – contrary to regulations – and that Ceferin had promised Scandinavian countries the right to host the Euros in the foreseeable future.
This resulted in Van Praag tweeting: “If it is true, then we are back to the old-school way of doing business in the football world. That is exactly what I want to change. We need an honest football leader, no power hungry politician. Someone you can trust with football.”
Not surprisingly, Ceferin’s response was a denial of the accusations. “You can judge for yourself who has the methods of the old school. The one who meets federations, presents a programme and gets public support, or the one who is making up stories trying to pollute the pre-election time and desperately trying to get at least some support.”
It does seem that the Slovenian lawyer has enough backing for Europe’s footballing hot seat – he’s supported by some of the continents’ powerhouse federations, such as France, Germany and Russia.
This, in turn, could prompt Van Praag to withdraw from the race rather than face the embarrassment of losing.
Either way, Wednesday will see a new Uefa president elected – and this probably in the presence of the old one, as Platini has said he will be there.
His presence could be in violation of his ban, of which a member of Fifa’s judging chamber had this to say: “This would have to be decided by Mr [Hans-Joachim] Eckert, as chair of the adjudicatory chamber of the independent ethics committee. However, so far, he has not yet received a respective request by Uefa.’’