Patrick Burke

"He was not interested in what was happening outside. In fact quite the opposite; his arrogance astounded me."

The words of Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram on the UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin after the debacle of last year's Champions League final at the Stade de France in Paris.

Rotheram was discussing an interaction he had with the Slovenian official on the ill-fated night of May 28 2022, when Real Madrid's 1-0 victory over Liverpool in a clash between two of the continent's giants in European football's biggest match became a mere footnote.

When Rotheram was speaking to Čeferin, the event was being so badly mishandled by the French authorities it is a miracle no one lost their life. Indeed, were it not for the exemplary behaviour of Liverpool supporters in the midst of horrifying crushes and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray, Paris 2022 would likely have ended in tragedy.

It was a scarring experience for many who were in the French capital that night. And afterwards, there was anger at the outrageous lies told by those responsible for keeping the fans safe. UEFA attempted to blame a delayed kick-off on the "late arrival of fans."

The governing body and the French authorities including Minister for Sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin had the brass neck to baselessly claim to the world that ticketless supporters were responsible for the shambolic scenes.

Out-and-out lies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is an injustice Liverpool supporters and the city as a whole, spearheaded by the bravery of groups including the Hillsborough Families Support Group and Hillsborough Justice Campaign, have been fighting since 97 supporters were unlawfully killed at an FA Cup semi-final in 1989.

Several supporters who were in Sheffield on April 15 1989 have spoken about how Paris brought harrowing flashbacks.

For UEFA to invoke tropes used as part of an attempted cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster was hurtful and sickening to the highest degree.

Fortunately, the accounts of what really happened at the Stade de France from fans and journalists caught up in the near-miss helped to set the record straight. They have been vindicated in a French Senate report into the chaotic scenes, and vindicated again in the publication of a long-awaited independent report commissioned by UEFA earlier this week.

UEFA's independent report found
UEFA's independent report found "it is remarkable that no one lost their life" at the Stade de France because of the policing of the Champions League final ©Getty Images

French authorities, the police and Ministers were panned in the Senate report in July, which called for guidelines on the usage of tear gas and for the state and the French Football Federation to "change the way public authorities look on the supporters". It described the Champions League final as a "warning shot" with the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics on the horizon.

Monday's (February 13) report put the spotlight firmly on UEFA. It is a report so damning it has prompted calls for Čeferin to stand down.

"UEFA, as event owner, bears primary responsibility for failures which almost led to disaster," it found.

Later in the week, Čeferin was confirmed as the only candidate for the Presidential role.

Rotheram accused him of arrogance in his behaviour on the night.

His handling of the matter certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Čeferin was the only senior official or member of the operational staff at UEFA that the independent review panel sought a statement from who opted to reply in writing rather than undergo an interview.

The response consists of a defence of the "extremely difficult and complicated" relocation of the match from Saint Petersburg because of the war in Ukraine, and an explanation that he was asked to make or ratify the decision to delay kick-off while in a meeting with the King of Spain.

"Announcement on the stadium was immediately made to calm the fans and to reassure them that we will wait and that the match will not start without them," Čeferin claimed in his response.

UEFA's inaccurate claims that the
UEFA's inaccurate claims that the "late arrival" of fans had caused the chaos sparked anger ©Getty Images

He did not mention the false "late arrival" line displayed on the big screens and broadcast around the world.

Remarkably, he is still yet to comment on the report since its publication. An apology for the treatment of and smears against Liverpool supporters was issued on UEFA's behalf by secretary general Theodore Theodoridis, as well as a commitment to learn from the events.

Yet as the report says, this was an event for which UEFA was "at the wheel", and a contributing factor to how it unfolded was a "failure of UEFA's wider senior leadership" to address issues related to safety and security "over a number of years, despite clear knowledge of them".

Čeferin is at the head of the organisation, and as a minimum needs to publicly accept responsibility for May 28 2022 and implement the 21 recommendations outlined in the report. Personally, I would concur with my local Member of Parliament Mick Whitley and several columnists this week who have called on the UEFA President to resign. The report is sufficiently damning of UEFA for it to be a resignation matter.

It does not paint a picture of Čeferin's UEFA as a reliable custodian of European football for its supporters, nor does the leaking of its findings on the night of Liverpool's Merseyside derby against Everton.

And it does not say much for good governance and accountability that days after its publication of the report, Čeferin was confirmed as the only candidate for the UEFA Presidency at the Congress in April for the second consecutive election.

Then again, this is a sport in which Gianni Infantino has the same unopposed luxury as FIFA President next month despite his catalogue of gaffes.

The independent report has prompted calls for UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin to resign ©Getty Images
The independent report has prompted calls for UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin to resign ©Getty Images

The 55-year-old lawyer Čeferin dramatically rose to the UEFA Presidency in 2016, and has been able to emerge as a moderate, sensible, steady-Eddie administrator while those around him have pursued some of the most ludicrous ideas the sport has seen.

Looking at you biennial FIFA World Cup and European Super League, both of which Čeferin was a vocal opponent of.

He also isn't his predecessor Michel Platini, who left UEFA in disgrace in 2016, which helps.

It is a little surprising that moving the Champions League away from a 32-team format that works to an expanded 36-team competition held under the "Swiss system" from the 2024-2025 season has been pushed through with relatively little opposition.

However, there is no hiding place when it comes to this report, and UEFA deserves every criticism that comes it way for how it mismanaged Paris 2022 and shamelessly attempted to shift the blame onto fans.

Liverpool's reaction to the panel's findings noted that "no action has been taken" on recommendations by the French Senate in its July report.

UEFA cannot afford the same level of inaction.

If Čeferin is to resist the calls to resign and stay in his post, he needs to show leadership that has been lacking in the response to the events in Paris thus far: implement the changes recommended in the report and oversee a cultural shift within UEFA on its attitude towards supporters and management of events.