France soccer great Michel Platini was elected UEFA president Friday, defeating Swedish incumbent Lennart Johansson to become head of European soccer's governing body.
The 51-year-old Platini won by 27-23, with two invalid votes, in a secret ballot of UEFA's 52 federations, ousting the 77-year-old Swede after 17 years at the helm of world soccer's biggest regional body.
"The establishment was fighting for Lennart, but I counted on many friends to help me," Platini said. "It took a lot of work to get to 27 (votes). This is a great victory for me but I'm not going to do a lap of honor because now the work starts."
Platini was a three-time European player of the year who led France to the European Championship title in 1984. He helped organize the 1998 World Cup in France and has worked closely with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who publicly endorsed him on the eve of the vote.
Immediately after the result was announced, Platini asked the congress to elect Johansson as honorary president. The Swede was approved by acclamation.
"Lennart, this is for you," Platini said. "I will need you. We have to be all together."
In a tight runoff, Blatter had actively intervened for his protege to replace Johansson.
"It is no surprise for me," Blatter said after the vote. "I am very happy I will be working with someone that has the same vision on soccer as I do not only as a means of collecting money."
On Thursday, Blatter said in a speech to UEFA delegates that Platini was his choice to lead European soccer.
"I cannot appreciate the FIFA president interferes in an election process," Johansson said Friday just before the vote, with Blatter in the audience.
Platini said he doubted Blatter's endorsement had made the difference.
"Perhaps in one sense, but maybe in another too," he said, noting Blatter's intervention had created some bad blood on the eve of the election. "Sepp told everyone what he felt."
Johansson, who had been president since 1990, turned UEFA from an old-fashioned federation roiled by hooliganism and stadium disasters into a smooth professional organization, with the lucrative Champions League as its flagship event.
With Johansson out, CEO Lars-Christer Olsson is expected to go, leaving Platini to revamp the UEFA front office and introduce more of an executive-style management.
Platini wants to cut the maximum number of clubs from England, Spain and Italy in the Champions League from four to three, reports AP.
While UEFA is only one of the continental federations under the umbrella of FIFA, UEFA covers the biggest and richest leagues in the world and the sport's biggest clubs.
Platini toured smaller European nations to canvass support, while Johansson had big nations like Germany and Spain backing him.