At a Press Conference staged at Old Trafford in Manchester this afternoon, just after the local derby between Manchester United FC and Manchester City FC, plans to play a celebration match at the stadium were unveiled.
The event will mark two jubilees – and a marriage of two proposals which arrived at UEFA's headquarters in Switzerland. The European Union tabled the idea of a match to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which, on 25 March 1957, formally laid the foundations for a united Europe. Manchester United FC then expressed a wish to commemorate the club's 50 years of involvement in European competitions, notably the Champion Clubs' Cup, known nowadays as the UEFA Champions League. United were the first English team to enter the competition and the story which was begun by Sir Matt Busby's ‘Busby Babes' in the 1956/57 season has run in parallel with the lifespan of the European Union. The club's 50 years in Europe have coincided with the 50 years of the united Europe.
As a result, Old Trafford will be the setting for a match between Manchester United FC and a Europe XI, featuring star players from UEFA's member associations who have made contributions to the success of the UEFA Champions League. Any proceeds from the match will be used for charitable purposes under the umbrella of the Manchester United Foundation, with the emphasis on projects of lasting benefit for the future.
Marcello Lippi, world champion as the head coach of Italy last summer, has agreed to take the helm of the UEFA Select XI. "I accepted the invitation immediately," he comments. "I'm delighted by the prospect of such a game and I am already looking forward to taking on my great friend Sir Alex Ferguson." The Italian coach will select the European squad and will have UEFA's Technical Director, Andy Roxburgh, as his assistant.
The jubilee match will be played on Tuesday 13 March, kicking-off at 21.00 CET (20.00 local time).
"I think this is an excellent way of combining two celebrations and commemorating the 50th birthday of the European Union," comments UEFA's Chief Executive, Lars-Christer Olsson.
"It seems very appropriate to mark a political landmark with a sporting event like this, especially bearing in mind that Manchester United FC are one of the clubs who have made such a rich contribution to a football competition that, I think it's fair to say, has also helped to bring the peoples of Europe closer together."
The European Commission will be fully associated with the event. Lending his personal support to the initiative, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "The best of European football will be on show in Manchester next March to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the European Union. There is no better way to showcase the European Union at 50 than through Europe's favourite sport that unites Europeans in a unique way, through a passion we all share and a language we all speak."
The Manchester United FC Chief Executive, David Gill, says: "This is the first major project for the Manchester United Foundation. European nights at Old Trafford always create a special buzz. Fans and players can feel the excitement these games generate. Manchester United is proud of the fact that it was the first English club to enter European competition and it is a privilege to be able to host such a special game. I'm sure the night will bring back many special memories of glorious nights in our past. Our thanks go to UEFA, the European Union and the clubs and players that will take part in the event. We hope to raise a lot of money to benefit Europe's young people from Old Trafford to Belgrade."
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