We look back at a competition like no other, where clubs said 'thank you' while creating a spectacle to remember.
Article top media content
When Manuel Neuer lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy aloft on Sunday night, he did so wearing a jersey that had the word ‘Danke’ embroidered above the famous Bayern badge.
Why? Clubs throughout the Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Women’s Champions League have been demonstrating European football’s recognition of key workers for their tireless contributions on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic since competitions resumed in special formats on 5 August.
“I am delighted that our competitions are back, but we must not forget the people whose dedication and personal sacrifices have given us the opportunity to start playing again,” said UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin.
Saying ‘Thank You’ has carried special meaning for players, officials and staff representing all of the teams taking part this month. In a reflection of football’s strong community ties, many clubs launched their own initiatives during local lockdowns to support hospitals, charities, schools and care homes.
“Football’s gratitude is not limited to words. This unprecedented period has taught us that football really can be an important vehicle for good,” added the UEFA president.
Return to European competition has also taken dedication and organisation from a multitude of stakeholders, not least the national associations hosting the matches, who have had to plan the events in around two months – 10 fewer than a typical UEFA final.
This has meant incorporating local regulations relating to the pandemic as well as UEFA’s own return to play protocol, which applies to all 55 member associations.
Despite a lack of time in planning, the competition has been no less exhilarating. One-off matches, rather than the traditional two-legged knockout format leading up to the climax, created a 'final tournament' feeling culminating in the decider at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica.
A fascinating encounter was decided by the narrowest of margins – Kingsley Coman’s 59th minute header sealing a sixth European title for Bayern.
There may have been no fans in the stadium, but at the full-time whistle, celebrations on the field broke out like at any other final. The 2019/20 edition of the UEFA Champions League may have been different, but it meant just as much.
- Teams in the Women’s Champions League will continue wearing ‘thank you’ messages on their shirts through to Sunday’s final in San Sebastián.