Today Lennart will be buried in Katarina church. We are many who are here and even more who would like to participate but who have not been able to come. Lennart goes to his last rest but we stay for a while. He remains a role model for many of us and we try to follow in his tracks.
Perhaps it is too early to reflect on his work. His track record is long and it has been repeated in the media all over the world during the recent weeks. But a track record is not so much reflective, more a finding.
The reflection makes sense when I think of the leader and friend Lennart. But how can I describe it?
One of Lennart’s most important qualities was to surround himself with people as complementary to himself and make them safe in their assignments. He also allowed them to grow in their roles and gave them both space and confidence. I think that this is the property I should stick to now and give you some examples of how it was expressed in practice.
Most people know that the club in Lennart’s heart was AIK Solna and that was where he started his leadership business which later led him to Swedish Elite football. For my own part, I met him the first time in the Swedish Football Association where he became chairman in the mid-80s, just when I myself ended my first football job at Skånes FF.
Some years later, I think he made one of his most important choices of football staff. He convinced Lars-Åke Lagrell to become Secretary General of the Swedish FA. Those two became great friends and I think that Lars-Åke became even more important for Swedish football than Lennart had before he went on to UEFA.
There was a lot of discussions when Lennart strongly picked Lars-Åke as his successor at the chairmanship of the Swedish FA when he himself was elected chairman of UEFA. There were more people who were interested in that post, but Lennart was right and I also think he was right. Lars-Åke was elected.
That great friendly man who became chairman of UEFA had no problems being sharp if needed. The Executive Committee of UEFA experienced this already at its inaugural meeting. One of the members to be appointed fourth vice president was not satisfied and complained that such a position was under his dignity and questioned whether it was even needed. Lennart agreed with him and removed the position so he had to settle for the title of member.
This was back in 1990 when Lars-Åke was elected chairman of the Swedish FA, and I was given the opportunity to become Secretary General of the Swedish FA. It meant after a while that I had to take responsibility also for the local Euro 1992 organization in Sweden.
These days Lennart spent a lot of time in Sweden and he often was accompanied by two other giants in European football, Sir Bert Milliship from England and Egidius Braun from Germany, two of the most important member countries of UEFA. I would probably like to say that it was these three that drew the map of how the European football would develop in the next 10-15 years.
Now it was also time for another giant in the European football to seriously sail into the scene that Lennart so skilfully directed, Gerhard (Gerd) Aigner who was the general secretary of UEFA. It is the two who created today’s Champions League together with Claus Hempel and Jürgen Lenz who decided to leave the then market dominant on the world sports scene, ISL. ISL had the market rights to all the major sports, including the Olympic Games, the World Cup and the European Championship in football etc. Hempel and Lenz chose to quit and form their own company, TEAM which then became UEFA’s exclusive partner for the club competitions and they are still. Here is another example of Lennart’s ability to surround himself with the right people. It was a courageous decision and there are many stories about which decisions Lennart and Gerd maneuvered through a snug environment.
Lennart and Gerd also decided to modernize UEFA. They took the help of the Boston Consulting Group and launched a brand new organizational form for international sports organizations. It was put into operation in 2000 and constituted a revolution in the sports world. Maybe too revolutionary for some, for example FIFA. There was always a rivalry between UEFA and FIFA about who was the biggest and most beautiful. The success of the Champions League made UEFA financially stronger than FIFA, and it was further accentuated when the organization was reorganized.
This relationship led to strained relations between Lennart and Sepp Blatter, chairman of FIFA.
For my own part, I was employed in UEFA in 2000 as responsible for the major club competitions, the men’s European Championships and all marketing. In 2004 I was appointed CEO of UEFA and thus got to work directly with Lennart.
In 2007, it was time for the presidential election in UEFA and now Blatter had decided that he had too much trouble with UEFA with Lennart we rudder. He decided to ”launch” Platini as a new candidate and he won the election, albeit with a very small margin. Here perhaps both Lennart and I could have acted differently and that we could thus avoid some of the problems we are struggling with today. But it may be the subject of other reflections another time.
Lennart was the chairman of UEFA for 17 years, longer than anyone else and no other Swedish has had more influence on the international football than he. It is a memory to carry with us who had the pleasure of working with him. But the most important memory is still the strong and unconventional friendship.
Chairman, Swedish Professional Football Leagues