Lennart Johansson, the former UEFA president acclaimed as father of the Champions League, has died aged 89, the Swedish football federation said on Wednesday.
“Swedish football is in mourning. Lennart Johansson has died. He passed away on the evening of June 4 aged 89 after a short illness,” the federation said.
Johansson’s reign at the head of UEFA, European football’s governing body, from 1990 to 2007, coincided with the birth of the Champions League, world football’s biggest club tournament, and the transformation of football into a global business with wide appeal and income driven by TV revenue.
The announcement of the death of the large-than-life Johansson, well liked despite his no-frills reputation, came just ahead of the opening of the FIFA Congress in Paris where delegates including president Gianni Infantino observed a minute’s silence in his memory.
“I am heartbroken by the news of the passing away of Lennart Johansson,” Infantino said in a statement.
“He was a friend and an invaluable source of wisdom and inspiration. I will be forever grateful for having had him as the president of UEFA when I joined the organisation in 2000.
“Since then, Lennart has always been a role model of professionalism and, more importantly, of humanity.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said his predecessor was a “servant of football” who will always be remembered as the “architect of the UEFA Champions League”.
– Outspoken critic –
Johansson last appeared in public at the Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal in Baku on May 29. He was expected at the Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur on June 1 in Madrid but was unable to attend.
Born on November 5, 1929 to a modest family in the Stockholm suburb of Bromma, Johansson worked his way up from messenger boy to director of a building company.
He launched his career as a sports administrator in the 1960s, becoming president of elite Swedish football club AIK, and then head of the Swedish football federation prior to his election as UEFA chief in 1990.
He never achieved his biggest ambition, however. In 1998, he was defeated by Sepp Blatter in his bid to become head of football’s global federation FIFA.
The pair never spoke again but Johansson remained an outspoken critic of Blatter, who was forced out of office in 2015 following accusations of corruption in the awarding of the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia and the 2022 edition to Qatar.
Under Johansson’s watch at UEFA, the Champions League was born, replacing the old European Cup tournament and becoming the world’s most prestigious club competition followed by millions of fans and bringing together the best players on the planet.
He also presided over the growth of the European Football Championship, with the number of finalists doubling from eight to 16 under his watch.