Graeme Le Saux and Marcel Desailly were among the guests at a special event in Nyon that heralded a new expedition to Asia for the UEFA Champions League Trophy.
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The UEFA Champions League Trophy has a heritage and a history that makes it a magnet for the best players in the world as well as a massive attraction for enthusiasts of the game around the globe.
The trophy, which has carved a unique place in football's annals over more than 50 years, set out on its latest trip – the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by Heineken, of Asia – at a special ceremony at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon on Wednesday.
Two players who participated in Europe's most prestigious club competition – former England international Graeme Le Saux and French FIFA World Cup winner Marcel Desailly – were on hand to mark the kick-off the trophy's latest adventure, together with UEFA Events SA CEO David Taylor and Heineken brand activation manager Hans Erik Tuijt.
Since the 1955/56 season, the trophy has been brandished by some of the stellar names in football, and it is not an uncommon occurrence at each UEFA Champions League final to see the players touch the coveted prize as they walk past on entering the pitch for the European club game's showpiece occasion.
In Nyon, UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour ambassador Le Saux passed the trophy to Heineken ambassador Desailly, before the duo took the silverware to the vehicle that would transport it to Geneva airport. From Switzerland, the trophy is going to Kuala Lumpur in February, Penang, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Seoul in March, and Hong Kong in mid-April, before returning in time for the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley Stadium, London, on 28 May.
"It symbolises the ultimate club trophy," Le Saux told UEFA.com. "From a very young age, I watched Liverpool and Nottingham Forest winning [the trophy], and then had the privilege of being involved as a player myself for Blackburn and Chelsea. Because the competition has evolved so much over recent years, its identity has become even more clear, it's a global phenomenon.
"I wasn't fortunate enough to win [the trophy], but to stand next to it is quite inspirational. The fact that UEFA with Heineken are doing a trophy tour and travelling around the world with this iconic symbol is fantastic. It's great for football, and also a great opportunity for people who otherwise would only see this on television."
"It's a friend that I've not seen for a long time," said Desailly of the trophy he won with Olympique de Marseille in 1993 and AC Milan in 1994 – scoring in the latter final against FC Barcelona. "You cannot compare [it] with any other club competition. The trophy is magnificent – that's why it's a good initiative to promote football in Asia and to give supporters access to the trophy. The Champions League boosts interest in football in Asia."
"The trophy is so distinctive – it makes you think 'I'd love to win it'," David Taylor told UEFA.com. "It must be a dream come true for many footballers to win it. Because it is competed for so fiercely by the top clubs, football fans want to be close to it and have their picture taken with it. It brings the competition to life for fans who watch it in other countries.
"We hope the partnership with Heineken will continue," he added. "We jointly commit resources and effort to promote the competition. This partnership works very well. And the ambassadors, with their involvement, are giving something back to the game because they are helping to promote football."
"The Champions League Trophy is the ultimate prize," added Hans Erik Tuijt. "If you go to Asia, people talk about the Champions League, and I'm sure that the reaction will be great – we love to bring the Champions League to consumers wherever they are. Heineken are proud sponsors – sponsoring is about tapping into people's passion and we think that the trophy tour will do exactly that."