MADRID, Spain, Sep 6 – Angel Maria Villar, the head of Spain’s football association, announced Tuesday he had withdrawn his bid to replace the banned Michel Platini as president of UEFA.
His surprise defection leaves just two candidates for European football’s top job – Aleksander Ceferin of Slovenia and Dutchman Michael van Praag.
“After a profound reflection I have decided to withdraw my bid,” Villar said in a statement posted on the website of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).
“There have been many representatives of Spanish football who have made their voices heard and asked me to continue working for my country’s football by submitting a new bid in the next months for my reelection as President of RFEF.”
The election for the coveted post will be held at the UEFA Congress in Athens on September 14.
Each one of UEFA’s 55 member nations has one vote in the contest.
The two remaining candidates are bidding to succeed Platini after the Frenchman, in the post since 2007, was banned from all football-related activities by FIFA for four years for ethics violations.
Influential Spanish sports daily AS reported that Villar, who has headed up Spain’s football association since 1988, withdrew his bid as he did not have enough support.
It added that major associations such as that of France, Russia and Germany had already decided to vote for Ceferin.
Apart from heading up his country’s football federation, Villar has also run UEFA on an interim basis since Platini resigned, and he handed over the trophy to Portugal at Euro 2016.
But as football attempts to improve its image following corruption scandals in FIFA and UEFA, the former international midfielder’s association with the “old guard” had been seen as potentially hurting his chances when he announced his candidacy in July.
Last year, FIFA fined him 25,000 Swiss francs and gave him a warning for his failure to co-operate with investigations into the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.
He has also had an ongoing battle with Javier Tebas, the head of the Spanish league, since the latter launched corruption allegations against Villar related to the expenses of employees and family members of the association that were subsequently dismissed.
Villar had an international playing career, representing Spain 22 times and making over 350 appearances in a 10-year spell with Athletic Bilbao.
However, his playing career is most remembered for a punch on the late three-time World Player of the Year Johan Cruyff in 1975.
Off the field, though, he has gained greater notoriety.
He has won six straight presidential elections to remain as the figurehead of Spanish football and overseen the most successful period in the Spanish national team’s history in winning the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships.