In the 1990s and new millenium, European football experienced explosive growth and development. Aspects such as television, business and finance, marketing, sponsorship and global communication changed the face of the game, and political upheavals altered the map of Europe. Once again, UEFA was able to stay in tune with the times, and initiated or was involved in a variety of innovative measures. The figureheads during this period were UEFA President Lennart Johansson (Sweden), who was elected to office in 1990, and Gerhard Aigner (Germany), who succeeded Hans Bangerter (Switzerland) as UEFA General Secretary in 1989.
For the first time, 16 teams took part in a UEFA European Football Championship final round in England in 1996. On the club competition front, UEFA made wholesale changes to the European Champion Clubs' Cup from 1992. The competition became the UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious club competition in the world.
In another important move to adapt its club competitions to changing circumstances on the European football scene, the decision was taken in 1999 to abolish the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup competition, and to expand the UEFA Cup. From 2004/05, the latter competition featured a group phase and knockout rounds. Both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup – from 2009, renamed the UEFA Europa League – proved to be powerful commercial and sporting entities which not only generate revenue for European football's well-being, but also captivate football enthusiasts.
The women's game forged its own identity – 1982 saw the inaugural European women's competition, which evolved into the UEFA European Women's Championship by 1989 – and the inaugural European women's club competition was launched in 2001/02. European national-team and club competitions for futsal players were also introduced in the latter period.
New countries emerged in eastern Europe from the start of the 1990s, bringing the birth of new associations, national and club teams, and the subsequent expansion in size of the various UEFA competitions. This was reflected in the continued introduction of new competitions (the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1995, a women's Under-18 championship in 1997/98, and the UEFA Regions' Cup for amateur footballers in 1999).
As football became more commercially-driven, UEFA continued to give vital emphasis to reinvesting the funds generated by its activities back into the game at all levels. Away from the competition scene, UEFA was no less active.
It was at the forefront of moves to improve safety and security at football matches in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster in Belgium in 1985, with stringent security requirements and provisions implemented for all-seated spectators at UEFA matches.
During the 1990s, the integration process within western Europe brought about the intensification of contacts between UEFA and the European Union (EU) on a host of matters, including cross-border TV broadcasts. The Bosman ruling by the European Court of Justice in 1995 obliged UEFA (and European football as a whole) to make wide-ranging changes to regulations and policies on international transfers, as well as on the fielding by clubs of foreign players.
From 1987 onwards, UEFA experienced dramatic growth in terms of staff and budget. There were also the effects, particularly from a legal point of view, of a Europe without borders; TV rights matters and the rise of more sophisticated and aggressive marketing techniques; football clubs being quoted on the stock market; increasing involvement of political bodies in football; and the growing influence and power of Europe's leading football clubs. Football's commercial growth, as well as the resultant legal and political challenges, increased the pressure on UEFA to adapt without delay and question its role within the game's new realities. One decision was for UEFA to move to the western Swiss town of Nyon in 1995 after three decades in the Swiss federal capital, Berne, and open a new headquarters – the House of European Football – on the banks of Lake Geneva in autumn 1999.
In December 1999, the UEFA Executive Committee decided to go ahead with the revamping of the European body. The administrative set-up underwent an overhaul, new priorities were set, and UEFA General Secretary Gerhard Aigner became chief executive to lead the UEFA administration, which continued to work alongside committees and expert panels on every facet of modern-day football.
Around this time, it was also recognised that the clubs and professional leagues should be given greater representation within UEFA's activities. UEFA pursued an intensification of dialogue with the top clubs and leagues, while maintaining its long-standing bond with its member associations. It was evident that to maintain its credibility, in both sporting and commercial terms, UEFA had to represent the entire spectrum of the football family – including the elite clubs, who generate considerable revenue in the major European competitions.
Lennart Johansson was elected for a fourth term of office as UEFA President at the Stockholm Congress in April 2002, and Lars-Christer Olsson's appointment as chief executive to replace the retiring Gerhard Aigner meant that two Swedes were at UEFA's helm from the start of 2004. The Scandinavian duo were in place to lead UEFA through its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2004, in which a host of events and special activities took place over a special year.
The following period saw UEFA continue to pursue its quest for greater legal certainty for sport and the recognition of sport's specific nature within the framework of future EU legislation, to ensure sport's well-being in the future. Dialogue with the EU focused on concrete issues facing sport and on how the EU institutions, the EU member states and the European football authorities could provide a comprehensive and robust legal framework for European sport in general and football in particular.
In club competitions, the UEFA Champions League – previously the European Champion Clubs' Cup – celebrated its 50th anniversary, with media and marketing successes going hand-in-hand with memorable football. A new format was introduced for the 2003/04 season – one group stage and a knockout phase beginning with 16 teams. At the same time, work to enhance the UEFA Cup's image was ongoing, with the introduction of a 40-team group stage a key step forward. On the national-team scene, UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal broke records across the board, and the glorious unpredictability of football was confirmed when the outsiders Greece took the title.
Within UEFA, a fully-owned affiliated company, UEFA Euro 2008 SA, was set up to implement the organisation of UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. The fight against doping was stepped up, with a new anti-doping unit created within the UEFA administration.
The UEFA club licensing system was in place in time for the 2004/05 season, with the aim being to provide a framework for clubs to run themselves more efficiently. The system aimed to improve quality standards in European football, including improvement of clubs' economic and financial capabilities, through the installation of appropriate financial tools, as well as the adaptation of their sporting, administrative and legal infrastructures to meet UEFA's requirements.
UEFA also undertook untiring campaign work in various social and humanitarian areas, including the fight against racism. Partnerships were forged with other specific bodies as UEFA looked to support the belief that football could be used as a force to benefit society. In the new millenium, UEFA kept pace with the rapid development of new communications outlets with the launching in 2001 of a new subsidiary company dealing with new communications, UEFA New Media – eventually to be renamed UEFA Media Technologies SA – and relaunch of UEFA.com.
A new era began for UEFA in January 2007, when Michel Platini (France), one of the world's top players from the 1980s, was elected as UEFA President at the XXXI Ordinary UEFA Congress in Dusseldorf. Lennart Johansson was named honorary president after 17 years of outstanding service to European football.
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