UEFA Regions' Cup final tournament ambassador Albertino Bigon understands the significance of the competition well. "This is a very important event, because amateur football involves hundreds of thousands of people, young and less young," said the experienced 65-year-old coach, who was born in Padua, in the same Veneto region that will stage the 2013 finals between 22 and 29 June. "It is part of the social fabric of Italy."
The UEFA Regions' Cup shines the spotlight on the foot soldiers of European football – those who play for love, not money – but while Bigon won the European Cup Winners' Cup and Serie A as an AC Milan player in the 1970s, he knows plenty of talent exists below the professional radar. "When I was the coach of an amateur side, I took two or three players with me when I moved to a professional club and they did pretty well," he explained. "There are eight teams here [at the finals] so I am sure we will see some good players."
Footballers from past tournaments have indeed gone on to enjoy remarkable professional careers. Central defender Kostadin Stoyanov reached the 2007 final on home soil with Yugoiztochen Region – and proceeded to play for PFC CSKA Sofia and the senior Bulgarian national team. "Do not underestimate the tournament," the 27-year-old said. "Before 2007, I never even dreamt of playing for Bulgaria, but now that is a reality thanks to the Regions' Cup."
A losing UEFA Regions' Cup finalist with Braga in 2001, right-back Tony has since landed a Romanian title and played in the UEFA Champions League group stage with CFR 1907 Cluj. With current side FC Paços de Ferreira finishing third in Portugal this season, the 32-year-old could yet return to the group stage of the elite competition in 2013/14. "I would be lying if I said that, back in 2001, I believed I would play in Europe's top club event," he admitted. "I will never forget the tournament which allowed me to become a pro in this sport."
Turning professional, however, is not the aim for most players coming to Veneto, many of whom have successful careers outside the game or are students with bright prospects. Once more, Bigon neatly summed up the UEFA Regions' Cup ethos: "I have always told my sons and my nephews who play football, have fun, have fun and never forget the most important values in life: honesty, discipline and focusing on your goals. School comes first, then there's football."
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