Chinese football fans have relished the opportunity to get close to the UEFA Champions League trophy as the latest successful trophy tour, presented by Heineken, came to Shanghai this month.
No fewer than 17,000 people visited the special exhibition of UEFA Champions League memorabilia in just over three days between 6 and 8 April – proof of the pulling power of the silverware that all the world's major players want to win. Two former Dutch internationals who achieved that proud objective during their careers, Ronald de Boer and Ruud Gullit, were in attendance in their respective roles as UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour ambassador and Heineken ambassador.
The on-site football carnival was also a great success, attracting 3,600 visitors. Here a mini-football challenge invited participants to try and kick a ball through holes in the net; a mini-dribbling skill challenge gave enthusiasts the chance to work their way through various pop-up objects and obstacles; and at a special section fans could even choose to have their hair cut like a footballer.
As usual, the press came out in force for the trophy tour media conference and the opportunity to interview the ambassadors. It was highlighted that the UEFA Champions League has become a global attraction, with fans being given a one-off chance to see the trophy close up and savour the competition experience through the exhibition. Before landing in China, the 2012 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by Heineken, had visited Mexico, Tanzania and Kenya.
With Gullit and De Boer having brandished the trophy in triumph – with AC Milan in 1989 and 1990, and AFC Ajax in 1995, respectively – both spoke of their pleasure and excitement at winning, and now renewing their acquaintance with, European club football's greatest prize.
"For me it's the highest you can achieve as a club player," said De Boer, who recalled the thrill of hearing the UEFA Champions League anthem in the stadiums. "When I was young, I was dreaming about it, to lift the 'trophy with the big ears', as we call it. Once you do it, and also the way we did it, I was very proud. It was a dream come true.
"Football is global, football is for everybody," De Boer went on. "And to bring the trophy to the Chinese people and give them a chance to hold the cup themselves, experience the trophy ... I know football is very popular in China and I think it's a great opportunity for the Chinese fans. The Champions League goes in every living room so it has incredible exposure."
Gullit said of his ambassadorial duties: "It's a great privilege. I think you have the opportunity to bring the cup closer to the fans, especially in a country like China, who only see it from television. And now we can give them a moment so they get even more enthusiastic about the Champions League.
"For me it's the highlight of my career," he added of his victories with Milan. "I think you can't go bigger than the Champions League trophy. I had the privilege to lift it twice and I'm very proud of that."
The Shanghai leg concluded the 2012 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by Heineken. The trophy now returns to Europe to be displayed in Munich in the lead-up to this season's final on 19 May.
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