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Zeljko Pavlica is UEFA’s head of security. In 14 months since being awarded the role, he has presided over three chaotic major finals.
The 2021 European Championship final, in which hooligans ran riot and it was lucky no one died. The 2022 Europa League final, when stadium staff confiscated medicines and water in searing heat, the taps ran dry and concession stands ran out of supplies, and it was lucky no one died.
And the 2022 Champions League final, when fans were kettled, crushed, robbed, and gassed, and it was lucky no one died. You can’t say he isn’t consistent.
UEFA’s head of security, Zeljko Pavlica (left), has presided over three chaotic major finals
Most recently, fans were crushed, robbed and gassed at the Champions League final in Paris
Stadium staff confiscated medicines and water from Rangers and Frankfurt fans in Seville
So, quite the record. But then Pavlica isn’t just any incompetent. He’s an incompetent who also happens to be a close friend and countryman of Aleksander Ceferin, the UEFA president.
Pavlica was an external safety and security officer with UEFA in 2014, but two months after Ceferin became president he was given a full-time role, a position that had not been publicly advertised.
Again, no wider recruitment was ordered in February 2021 when he was promoted to his current position of seniority. Nice work if you can get it. And with the best man at his wedding also being president of UEFA, it seems Pavlica can.
Pavlica happens to be a close friend and countryman of UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin
Nor is he alone. Slovenia has become quite the hotbed of influence since Ceferin took over. Take refereeing. Since the 2016-17 season, Ceferin’s first full year in charge, 12 different referees have been appointed to UEFA’s major club finals. None from the Premier League, none from Belgium or Portugal, just one from Germany and Spain.
But Slovenian referees have led three finals, more than any other nation. The 2017 and 2022 Europa League finals, the 2019 Champions League final — all had Slovenian officials.
What a coincidence that the referees rising to prominence under Ceferin, should be those sharing his nationality. And what a coincidence that the best man to enforce security and ensure crowd safety at major UEFA finals should also be his good friend Pavlica.
Slovenian referee Damir Skomina officiated the 2019 Champions League final in Madrid
Resign. That’s what Pavlica should do. Ceferin, too. They have had their chance, this dream team, and it is lucky nobody is dead.
And it can be argued that local police are the ones who let hooligans run amok, and allow stewards to make stupid decisions to seize water bottles on entry, and that UEFA’s head of security is largely powerless — but then what is the point of him at all?
Pavlica has previously spoken of reviewing match security in detail on the eve of the game, assessing access points and inspecting the stadium.
So what was his response when told how police were going to handle fans on arrival at the Stade de France? What did he say when told in the cauldron of Seville that water and medical supplies would be confiscated?
UEFA are lucky no one is dead following the mayhem outside the Stade de France
Hooligans ran riot at Wembley Stadium ahead of the Euro 2020 final last summer
Shown the location of the Boxpark site in proximity to Wembley last summer, did he foresee the danger in letting so many fans without tickets invade the area? Did he not have questions, raise doubts, voice suspicions? This is incompetence on an extraordinary scale. One near-miss would be unacceptable. Three? How is he still in a job?
We can all guess the answer to that. Just as we can guess at why the person selected to investigate what went wrong in Paris is Dr Tiago Brandao Rodrigues, a member of the Portuguese parliament, and a close ally of Tiago Craveiro, who is a senior adviser to Ceferin at UEFA, having worked previously with the Portuguese Football Association. Liverpool are believed to be unimpressed.
Then again, so were Manchester City when one of UEFA’s people sitting in judgment on financial fair play turned out to be former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry.
Amazing how these jobs get around, isn’t it? Did you know Michel Platini’s son-in-law Yohann Zveig composed the original Europa League anthem? Out of all the composers in the world, they chose him? Fancy.
Dr Tiago Brandao Rodrigues has been selected to investigate what went wrong in Paris
Manchester City were not happy former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry sat on UEFA’s investigation into their Financial Fair Play dealings
Still, nobody died. Not from Zveig’s composing, or Slovenian officiating, or from handing investigation duties to the friend of a friend. This is just old-fashioned UEFA cronyism. Sickening, but not lethal.
Leaving Pavlica in charge of safety and security, however, is a different matter. He’s had three failures so far. Do we dare risk a fourth? Should we even have to contemplate that?
Who do they answer to, these people? It can’t just be each other. It can’t just be their mates. UEFA are composed of member associations. Where are they in this? Where are the Football Association, the Spanish FA, the Scottish FA, the German FA? It is their supporters who have been left unprotected, their fans who have been treated with contempt.
Does nobody think it has gone too far? Is nobody prepared to make that call? If fans are placed in mortal danger on the watch of UEFA’s head of security and safety, he should go. As should his patron. Three strikes, out. Why the silence?
Don’t knock Southgate’s switch-up
A great success of Gareth Southgate’s reign is the ease with which England’s players switch between a back three and a back four.
England played poorly with a three in Hungary at the weekend, yet it would be a retrograde step to start blaming failure on an unfamiliar system.
Any team that has a chance of winning the World Cup this winter will be able to slip between shapes and formations, according to the demands of the game.
A full back that cannot be coached to play wing-back isn’t world class. If we are placing these limitations on our players again, we will sink back into the mediocrity that preceded Southgate’s arrival.
A great success of Gareth Southgate’s reign is the ease with which England’s players switch
Root admits what we knew for some time… that captaincy weighed too heavy
One of the biggest rows I ever had with Sir Alex Ferguson was over Roy Keane and Alf Inge Haaland. Keane was a much, much better player than Haaland but was injured kicking out at him during a match at Elland Road in 1997. It seemed so unnecessary. I wrote a piece wondering when he was going to grow up.
Joe Root admitted the England captaincy began to take a ‘really bad toll’
I didn’t know he was out for the season. Nobody beyond Ferguson’s office did. I would have been gentler otherwise. So Sir Alex was feeling very protective and we had a pretty one-sided conversation.
But here’s the irony: in his autobiography, Keane admitted he’d been angered by Haaland during the game. He knew he’d made a mistake.
And so to Joe Root. For a long time before he stepped down, it was argued that the captaincy weighed too heavily on him. That he had lost his way as a leader, and it was affecting his game and his decision-making. He always denied this. He loved being England captain. He was ready to go on and on. And now? On the back of two innings as a free man, the second of which won England the first Test against New Zealand, Root revealed that the captaincy was an unhealthy influence.
‘It started to take a really bad toll,’ he admitted. ‘I couldn’t leave it at the ground any more. It got to the stage where it was time for someone else to lead. The decision was right. It felt like a big weight had been lifted. I immediately felt a lot better.’
And everyone knew that. Everyone saw that. Root is a popular and talented cricketer and the deterioration was obvious. Nobody took any pleasure in the criticism; it’s just that sometimes you can be too close.
Erik needs to solve Maguire dilemma
In European football it is felt the English obsess needlessly over the role of captain. Some countries, like Italy, simply hand it to the player with the most appearances.
Yet, make no mistake, Erik ten Hag has a significant dilemma over what to do with Harry Maguire at Manchester United next season.
There is no doubt Maguire is out of form, and struggling to get his confidence back right now. He is unconvincing, for club and country. There are suggestions David de Gea could become United’s captain, and it makes sense. There is no guarantee Maguire will even keep his place in the team unless his form improves.
Erik ten Hag has a significant dilemma over what to do with Harry Maguire (pictured)
And yet, losing the armband could be ruinous to his self-belief. Not that it has exactly helped him this season, but it would be a savage blow in a new campaign with a new manager. One of the reasons United are persevering with Maguire is that he was an expensive acquisition and previous form suggests he can still be an asset to the club.
Equally, he is fragile at present. Ten Hag must balance rebuilding confidence with picking the right leader for the team. Little is easy at United right now.
ECB to blame for Lord’s empty seats
There were many unsold seats at Lord’s last week and those patrons missed a fine Test. At £160 a ticket, however, most of the absentees will have had their reasons.
And the ECB have only themselves to blame. They spent the last year making Test cricket seem a big snooze, with the advent of The Hundred, and here is the payback. By ceaselessly championing ever shorter forms of cricket the ECB have given the impression the long-form game was niche and of no great interest. To then charge £160 is a very illogical business model indeed.
The Hundred, we were told, would get a younger audience involved who would then be directed to other forms of cricket, including Tests. That never happened. There was no cross-pollination on The Hundred’s social media feeds, or in the broadcasts last summer. No work went into associating the England players with their Hundred franchises.
There were many unsold seats at Lord’s last week and those patrons missed a fine Test
‘After a serene day of Test match cricket, we now have the big hitters…’. That was the start of the coverage of Birmingham Phoenix versus Oval Invincibles, which followed a day’s play at Trent Bridge against India last summer.
Serenity? At one stage, England lost six wickets for 22 runs that day. Yet the ECB were happy for it to be portrayed as a glacial affair, with scarce action, and the real excitement to come. Hardly a sell is it? And then some genius charged £160 per seat and wondered why interest was waning.
Clubs should snub checked-out Bale
Gareth Bale says he has many offers already for next season and no doubt that is true. People see what he brings to Wales and think he will do that for their club. He won’t. Tottenham tried it. Bale’s second coming was a huge disappointment.
He no longer performs for club as for country because country is his priority. He only wants a club now to keep fit for Qatar. The games will be of little importance to him, and the spiritual lift he gives Wales will be absent.
Ben Davies and Wayne Hennessey were Wales’ supreme performers against Ukraine. Bale missed a sitter and his free-kick winner would have been harmless, were it not for the unfortunate intervention of Andriy Yarmolenko.
Gareth Bale no longer performs for club as for country because country is his priority
No matter, though. Bale is a talismanic figure for Wales because when his team-mates see what international football means to him, it inspires them, too. Bale has got Wales to this World Cup by sheer force of will. He hasn’t always been the best player, but his influence is enormous.
Sadly, he hasn’t harnessed that for his club across several seasons now, and he won’t in 2022-23 either. If he wishes to keep fit, the Football Association of Wales should pick up the bill. They will be the ones getting the benefit.
Romelu Lukaku wants to return to Inter Milan. And he should. He had his chance at Chelsea, and Manchester United, and isn’t good enough for the elite end of the Premier League.
Serie A is a rung down the ladder. He could do well there, as he did before. Yet it is not enough just to want a move.
The numbers have to add up, too. Chelsea paid £97.5million for Lukaku, which no Italian club could afford. He earns £17m a year, plus bonuses. That’s also out of reach. So there is a long way to go yet.
Chelsea will require sizeable loan fees, or player exchanges, Lukaku will have to adjust his salary demands, and his agent might not get his usual cut. This has been a very expensive misfire and Lukaku cannot simply walk away from it without cost.
Romelu Lukaku should return to Serie A as he is not good enough for the Premier League
Finally, to anyone who took to social media to complain that Martin Tyler said Ukraine’s goalkeeper was going to ‘soldier on’ with injury against Wales: go away.
Stop undermining public discourse with your dismal lack of intelligence. Stop closing down the richest language with banal observations. Stop taking unintended offence. It is a waste of intellectual space. You are dragging down human interaction and understanding. Just go.