The 2009/10 UEFA Champions League campaign is heading towards a memorable climax – and thousands of fans in the United States have already had the opportunity to view the silverware that one lucky team captain will brandish at Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu stadium on 22 May.
The 4,489km journey across the USA in February and March was the fourth time that UEFA and Heineken have joined forces for a Trophy Tour, after previous jaunts in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Once again, the expedition provided ample proof that it is not just the top players who want to handle the trophy – fans also consider it a coveted, iconic item to see in close-up, as they did in New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.
UEFA feels that touring the trophy outside Europe helps bring the past and present of the UEFA Champions League story to supporters on different continents. The fans also find out about UEFA's values and are perhaps encouraged to play the game themselves. Heineken is a long-standing UEFA partner, for whom the project is an ideal promotional platform.
In the United States, it was fitting that the tour coincided with some outstanding matches in this season's round of 16. As a result, many supporters would watch their favourite teams on television, and then go see the trophy themselves the same week. It was clear that soccer is avidly followed over the Atlantic as fans dressed in team colours met in the four cities to have their picture taken with the cup, often staying to talk football together afterwards.
Legends of the game were on hand as Trophy Tour ambassadors to meet and greet lucky supporters and guests at VIP events, have photos taken with them and the trophy, and speak about their experiences. A star-studded list – Eusébio, Zico, Edgar Davids, Christian Karembeu, Steve McManaman, Brian Laudrup, Michael Laudrup, Jürgen Klinsmann and Bebeto – featured five former winners of European club football's most prestigious prize.
The Trophy Tour brought with it the usual superb array of memorabilia portraying five decades of action. Among the favourite items were David Beckham's signed AC Milan UEFA Champions League kit and official match balls used in past finals. Fans were also treated to a series of UEFA Champions League videos showing previous finals, memorable goals, famed players and recent highlights.
The trophy has now returned to Europe, where it will soon travel to Spain and Madrid. It will be displayed from 15 May at the Champions Festival and will be lifted by the triumphant team on 22 May – the first time a final has been played on a Saturday.
"On a club level and throughout history, it's THE competition in Europe. It was always the biggest trophy to win for big teams," said former Germany striker, coach and Trophy Tour ambassador Jürgen Klinsmann. "What happened now, over the last ten to 12 years, is that the Champions League throughout the world sets the tone. There's so much energy in that competition – you don't need to motivate players to play in the Champions League."
Steve McManaman claimed the trophy twice with Real Madrid CF, in 1998 and 2000. The former England player turned Trophy Tour ambassador welcomed the idea of taking it across the globe. "In Europe we all know about the Champions League and the trophy and we've seen it ... and personally I have seen it at close hand. It's nice to bring it to other parts of the world, if people don't get the chance to get across to Europe. It's a huge trophy, as everybody knows, a very prestigious trophy. And it's about showing the people in America, if they want to see it and want to learn about it."
The last word went to those who were the target of the Trophy Tour – the fans. "Absolutely tremendous." "It is a great trophy." "It's awesome!" "I feel it's like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." One fan in New York went so far as to say: "It feels like one of the best days in my life." Another continent seduced by the trophy that the superstars want to win.
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