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Rae's Say: Time for a new era at UEFA

Lennart Johansson has served football splendidly and at times selflessly, in his capacity as UEFA president. The Swede, seeking a fifth term in Friday's presidential election in Düsseldorf, will forever be inextricably linked with the creation and rise of the UEFA Champions League. There can be no arguments about the quality of Johansson's accomplishments as a football administrator.

His opponent, French football legend, Michel Platini at 51, is 26 years the junior of Johansson, and unproven. Platini ruffles a few feathers occasionally, but his campaign message is proving increasingly seductive. The former European Footballer of the Year has had no qualms in saying, for instance, that four representatives from one country is overdoing it.

For his part, Johansson is now speaking out in support of a 24-team European Championship beginning in 2012. It seems to me, Platini's support for the underdog has almost forced the incumbent to endorse this position, in a bid to capture the floating voter.

Remember the decision rests with each of the 52 European associations. The traditional powers will likely back Johansson - Germany have already given him the thumbs-up, England are expected to follow suit. Platini is pinning his hopes on attracting the middle-ranking and less successful nations.

That FIFA president Sepp Blatter has given Platini his tacit support will not hurt: far from it.

Originally I expected Johansson to win in a landslide. As election day approaches, there are indications that the race has tightened considerably.

While I have the utmost respect for Lennart Johansson's integrity and leadership qualities, I believe now is the time to take a chance on Michel Platini.

The game of football in Europe could do with an injection of innovative thinking. Platini is better equipped than Johansson to provide it.

Arsenal will, in my view, win the Premiership again within the next three seasons. How great is their potential? For the answer to that question, just look at Birmingham City.

In the Blues' thumping 5-1 victory against Newcastle United in last week's FA Cup third round replay at St. James' Park, Sebastian Larsson and Fabrice Muamba both played key roles. Nicklas Bendtner would have been an important Blues' figure too, had it not been for a wrenched ankle injury suffered in the initial 2-2 draw with the Magpies on the dodgy St. Andrews pitch.

What do Larsson, Muamba and Bendtner all have in common? They're young Arsenal players of course, currently on loan in the Midlands.

Birmingham manager Steve Bruce would dearly love to be able to sign all three on a permanent basis. The fact that it's even a possibility says much about the conveyor belt of superb talent coming through the Arsenal youth scheme. Larsson, Muamba and Bendtner would hardly be expendable at any other big club.

Arsene Wenger and head of youth development Liam Brady are getting it right in an area where other clubs have failed miserably.

I make no apology for going Australian again in this week's column. As expected, the final round of fixtures in the Hyundai A-League's minor premiership season was gripping in the extreme.

Defending champions Sydney FC, thanks to a 1-1 draw at Queensland Roar, sneaked into the minor semi-final, and will now face the form team of the last few weeks, Newcastle Jets, over two legs. The first game goes ahead at Sydney's Aussie Stadium on Friday night. Sydney, coached by ex-England captain Terry Butcher must keep Newcastle's lively young striker Mark Bridge quiet, if they're to prevail.

Adelaide United will play host to Melbourne Victory on Friday in the initial leg of the other tie. Adelaide boss John Kosmina has every reason to believe that 18-year-old scoring sensation Nathan Burns can trouble the league's top dogs. Burns netted a sparkling hat-trick in Sunday's 3-1 victory over Central Coast.

Melbourne fans might have cause to be a little bit nervous. After all, results have been very poor since Victory clinched the minor premiership. But, I don't think coach Ernie Merrick is panic-stricken. Melbourne were streets ahead of the rest for most of the season, and have used the last few weeks to make sure they peak when it matters. A team possessing Kevin Muscat, Archie Thompson and the formidable Danny Allsopp has to be taken seriously.

How sad it was to hear of Bayern Munich midfielder Sebastian Deisler's retirement from football at 27. Has there been a more unlucky player in modern times? After five operations on his right knee, and two bouts of depression, Deisler has decided that another comeback is beyond him.

In his early days at Hertha Berlin, I felt he had the ability to become the top German player of his generation.

Footballers like Sebastian Deisler don't come along every day of the week.

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