By Mark Chaplin
The retirement of Gerhard Aigner as UEFA Chief Executive signals the end of an era within European football's governing body - and brings a close to an outstanding partnership with UEFA President Lennart Johansson. A partnership based on loyalty and mutual respect for one another's qualities and achievements.
Mr Aigner became UEFA general secretary in 1989 on the retirement of the long-serving Hans Bangerter. A year later, Mr Johansson was elected UEFA President at the body's Congress in Malta. Over the past 13 years, the two men - the dedicated Bavarian and the calm, wise Swede - have guided UEFA through a momentous period in which the organisation has completely transformed and reinvented itself.
That period has seen the launch of the prestigious, money-spinning UEFA Champions League, the Bosman case that changed the face of football, a growing commercial and political influence on the game and the increasing battles for football's soul. Mr Aigner and Mr Johansson have travelled together through turbulent times, but have always been able to retain their high regard for each other, because they have remained constantly on the same wavelength.
'We are friends'
I would say that, in the world of football, there are very few people with the qualities that Lennart Johansson possesses and with the same integrity," says Mr Aigner of the President. "Even though he is a little bit older than me, we can say that we are friends."
The CEO always understood that he and Mr Johansson were different people, but that this had helped them to establish an excellent interaction. "We are not exactly the same, but we complement each other very well," he said. "I have enormous respect for him as a person and because of the position he has. And I have learned from him, which has enhanced my own performance over the years. There has been a good mix and it has been very fruitful."
Mr Johansson sees his friend and colleague depart with great sadness, but with total understanding for the decision. "We have had excellent co-operation.
If there had been motives other than those he claims, I would have tried to convince him to stay," the UEFA President said. "He would like to spend some years with his family and I respect his decision."
Both men have worked together for 13 years within the UEFA Executive Committee, UEFA's supreme executive body, preparing and nurturing dialogue and decisions concerning the vast spectrum of the European game. Senes Erzik, UEFA first vice-president and president of the Turkish Football Association, hopes that Mr Aigner will stay in close touch with football.
"He has left his mark on UEFA," said Mr Erzik of the CEO. "He has done an outstanding job in his role in an updated, modernised organisation. He has been a leader, and has put UEFA in good hands for the future. I hope he will not leave us totally - UEFA's house is also his house whenever he wants to come here."