Two stars who know what it is like to hit the absolute heights in the UEFA Champions League were on hand as European club football's most prestigious prize came to Bangkok.
The Thai capital was the latest stop-off on the 2011 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by Heineken, which is currently travelling through Asia. Christian Karembeu and Steve McManaman – who have savoured the glory of lifting the trophy with Real Madrid CF – acted as Trophy Tour Ambassadors on another memorable leg of the tour.
The pair spoke to the large press turnout, played table football with local celebrities and signed autographs for the crowds of football enthusiasts who came to see – and have their picture taken with – the silverware that the greats all want to win.
Karembeu played in the Madrid side that won the UEFA Champions League in 1998 and 2000, while McManaman was part of the Spanish club's triumphs of 2000 – when he scored one of the goals in the victory over Valencia CF in Paris – and 2002. The duo have fond memories of the glory nights when they hoisted the UEFA Champions League Trophy into the sky.
"The title of European champions, of [UEFA] Champions League winners, is the top title for every club player," said former French international midfielder Karembeu. "A title that you dream of ... to have won it twice with Real Madrid was the highlight of my career, and at the same time a revelation because when you get a taste of the Champions League, you catch a virus, you cannot get over it.
"That's what I was looking for, it was my adrenaline: to play in the Champions League," the 40-year-old added. "Luckily I won two of them, so personally it was more than enough. But as a competitor and a football player, I always wanted to qualify for the Champions League because I knew that this competition was the challenge I was looking for."
"This trophy is the single most important club trophy you can win. You know you're pitting yourself against the best teams in Europe, the best players in Europe," said McManaman, the ex-England winger. "Certainly on a club level, it means everything. If you ask any football player what they want to win, they want to win the Champions League. It's as simple as that."
"To be a UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour Ambassador is a real privilege, as we will share the experience we've gained in the European Cup, in the Champions League," Karembeu reflected. "To be able to meet the fans, meet people who love this competition, bring the trophy closer to those who always watched the Champions League. For me, it's a real honour to be part of this Asian Tour."
McManaman also had a clear message to supporters who are on the trophy tour's latest route. "The fact you can get within touching distance, or certainly have your picture taken with it," the 39-year-old said, "I think it's a great opportunity. It certainly shouldn't be missed. So if there's a Champions League Trophy Tour anywhere near you, come visit, come and enjoy yourself."
The tour is proving a resounding success. Some 17,500 fans attended the events in Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur and Penang – in February and earlier this month, and there is also great expectation for the upcoming legs at the other Thai venues of Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen. After Thailand, supporters in South Korea will have the chance to get up close with the trophy when the tour reaches Seoul on 6 April. Hong Kong is the final destination in mid-April.
• 22-27 February – Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
• 5-6 March – Penang (Malaysia)
• 11-12 March – Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
• 16-17 March – Bangkok (Thailand)
• 19–20 March – Chiang Mai (Thailand)
• 25–27 March – Khon Kaen (Thailand)
• 6–9 April – Seoul (Korea Republic)
• 15–17 April – Hong Kong (China)
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