One of English football's favourite sons took the stage at Monaco's Grimaldi Forum on Thursday as Gary Lineker participated in the UEFA Champions League group stage draw. For Lineker, the former England captain, it was the first of his duties as the official ambassador for this season's final at Wembley Stadium.
"It makes me feel proud," the striker turned television presenter told UEFA.com of his new assignment. "I think the Champions League is a wonderful competition with the best teams in Europe, the best club competition in the world. And the fact it's coming to London, to Wembley – a long time since it's been in London – is great. It's nice to be part and parcel of both the Champions League and the fact it's at Wembley."
The 49-year-old knew all about the old Wembley from his days leading the line for England, Everton FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC, winning the FA Cup there with Tottenham in 1991. Lineker struck 48 goals in 80 games for England, including the six that earned him the Golden Boot at the 1986 FIFA World Cup. He also tasted European glory with FC Barcelona when helping the Spanish club lift the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1989.
"It's got so much history," he said of the venue. "The original stadium, which is now completely changed, had so much history going right back to FA Cup finals, the World Cup final, the European Cup finals. So it's got that history. And all the players, right around the world, aspired to actually play there. I don't think that has changed with the new stadium."
The old Wembley staged European Cup finals beneath its Twin Towers in 1963, 1968, 1971, 1978 and 1992. Now Lineker will fly the flag for the new Wembley as it prepares to host its first major European showpiece since it opened in 2007.
"What you have got now is the same environment, on the same site, but you've also got a beautiful stadium," he continued. "Whereas, to be perfectly honest, the old Wembley was pretty much crumbling and falling down, with terrible facilities. So it was more the atmosphere that people wanted to go for, rather than the stadium itself. Whereas now you've got both aspects perfectly covered – the new Wembley is magnificent."
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