Italy in autumn is a beautiful place – and what better opportunity was there to parade European club football's top prize, the UEFA Champions League trophy, through several major cities in this football-mad country.
From 13 September to 22 October, the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by UniCredit, passed through Milan, Turin, Bologna, Palermo, Naples and Rome, with other stops in Verona, Venice and Florence. The silverware proved a premium attraction for thousands of fans, while stars who had graced the competition were present as trophy tour and UniCredit ambassadors to stoke up the atmosphere.
The fans who flocked to the venues were able to have their photo taken with the trophy and meet the ambassadors. No fewer than 164,850 football enthusiasts attended the tour stops, with 37,956 photos being snapped. By focusing on Italy alone, tour organisers could deliver the UEFA Champions League experience to some of Europe's most passionate fans, linked to many of the clubs and players who have helped write the history of the competition.
A glittering lineup welcomed the supporters along the way as ambassadors. The list was a prestigious one: Ruud Gullit and Luís Figo in Milan; Christian Karembeu, Gianluca Vialli and Francesco Graziani in Turin; Fabrizio Ravanelli and Gianluca Pagliuca in Bologna; Predrag Mijatović and Angelo Di Livio in Palermo; Careca and Ciro Ferrara in Naples; and Cafu and Christian Vieri in Rome.
The former players recognised the attraction of the tour and the appeal of the trophy. "It has been a great response," said Vieri. "They all want to see this trophy. All the kids in Italy follow football, so everybody watches the Champions League." Ravanelli added: "I think it's a dream; it's very important to do this tour through Italy. The cities that host the event can be really happy. The people are so passionate about this competition, so just imagine the players on the pitch who fight every day to win the trophy – and are able to say one day, 'I lifted this trophy.'"
Visitors and ambassadors alike went away with an unforgettable memory. "There can't be many better occasions for fans who are passionate about football than to see the Champions League trophy close up," Graziani said. "It's the most prestigious trophy there is at club level. You have the chance to touch it, to have a picture with it, to experience it personally."
Some of the great players felt moved to be reacquainted with the prize that brought them such glory. "It's an honour," Gullit reflected. "I won this trophy twice and I know what it means to me – to win the Champions League as a person and as a footballer is the maximum. I feel a bit of nostalgia – it was 25, 26 years ago that I arrived here [in Milan]. It feels like yesterday. I lived in Italy for eight years. It was the nicest time I had as a player."
Thanks to UniCredit's involvement as sponsors, the tour afforded the public the chance to see an iconic piece of modern sporting culture, in addition to the photo opportunities and appearances by the likes of Gullit and Figo. The goal was to make the trophy accessible and engage supporters – especially families and children – through grassroots activities. A big focus for UniCredit was to make the experience relevant to each individual city, and the ambassadors in particular helped bring a local flavour to the event.
The UniCredit Arena, a large pop-up stadium complete with entrance tunnel, was a resounding success at the major stopovers. Here fans were offered computer-simulated shots on goal, allowing them to experience how it feels to take part in a UEFA Champions League match. A video cube, comprising four giant television screens, added to the atmosphere, while the memorabilia exhibition included players' boots, jerseys and a changing room with kits from all 13 UEFA Champions League-winning clubs.
One new initiative for the tour was the UniCredit Cup, a youth football tournament played, over 192 matches, on six Sundays at the tour's main destinations. It featured 1,600 children born in 2000/01 who belong to sides associated with the Centro Sportivo Italiano, which trains youngsters in different sports.
All in all, it was a magical experience, with Karembeu summing up the feel and flavour of a fantastic Italian adventure. "I think it's an amazing idea that was created by UEFA and UniCredit to make a dream come true for the fans."
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