Marcel Desailly's affection for the UEFA Champions League is plain for all to see, though that is hardly surprising from a man who triumphed in two of the three finals he disputed during a glittering playing career.
A winner of the competition's first edition with Olympique de Marseille in 1993, Desailly retained the trophy the following year after moving to the team OM had defeated in the Munich showpiece, AC Milan. The gifted centre-back found the net as the Rossoneri swept aside FC Barcelona 4-0 in Athens, yet he was denied a hat-trick of continental titles 12 months later when Patrick Kluivert's solitary goal earned AFC Ajax the mantle of European champions in Vienna.
Speaking at the launch of the 2011 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, Desailly described the 73.5cm-tall piece of silverware as "a friend that I've not seen for a long time", adding: "I've enjoyed it quite a lot, and yes, it's a great achievement. You cannot compare it with any other club competition."
Of his experiences in the tournament, the former French international rates his success with OM – who host Manchester United FC in their round of 16 opener on Wednesday – as particularly special. "With Marseille it was great because it was the first [European club] trophy for France," he said. "For me, obviously, it was a great achievement. The previous year Barcelona had won it, and this time it was Marseille. That summer I changed clubs and went to Milan, and suddenly we won against a great Barcelona team with all these big players and with Johan Cruyff as coach."
While fond of recalling his time with Milan, Desailly feels an all-round improvement is required from the current Rossoneri if they are to overturn their 1-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur FC when they visit London on 9 March. "Their organisation has to be a bit better because they did not block the wingers enough," said the 42-year-old. "Collectively they probably have to play much better."
The 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000 winner will also be an interested observer when another of his former teams, Chelsea FC, resume their campaign in the Danish capital on Tuesday. Hosts FC København were arguably the surprise package of the group stage, and despite the Blues now boasting Fernando Torres in their ranks, Desailly knows that facing an unfancied side can bring difficulties.
"København have nothing to lose," he said. "[Carlo] Ancelotti has to reorganise the setup of his team and if they're not ready against København, they [FCK] can probably take advantage. It's a huge job for Ancelotti to change his players, to change the setup of his players on the field, and they need also to gain the confidence to perform in the new setup. København have a chance – it's the Champions League at the end of the day. They have nothing to lose, [they can] just go for it and see."
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