MARTIN SAMUEL: UEFA head of security is lucky no one is dead

MARTIN SAMUEL: UEFA’s head of security Zeljko Pavlica is lucky no one is dead after three chaotic major finals under his watch… he and his close friend Aleksander Ceferin must resign NOW

  • Zeljko Pavlica has presided over three chaotic major finals in his first 14 months 
  • Fans were crushed, robbed and gassed at the Champions League final in Paris
  • Staff confiscated medicines and water in searing heat at the Europa League final
  • Hooligans ran riot at Wembley ahead of the Euro 2020 showstopper last year
  • UEFA’s head of security has put fans in mortal danger and he must leave his role

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?

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