Milan provided a fitting backdrop to the start of the 2012 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by UniCredit – with Ruud Gullit and Luís Figo helping stoke up the atmosphere.
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The 2012 UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, presented by UniCredit, got off to a flying start with a resoundingly successful four-day session in the football stronghold of Milan, first stop on what promises to be an entertaining trip through Italy.
Some 30,000 visitors turned out at the city's Piazza del Duomo, where AC Milan and FC Internazionale Milano have given boundless joy to their fans in domestic and European football over the years. A total of 7,648 photos were taken of the silverware that the great players yearn to brandish. Helping stoke up the atmosphere were Trophy Tour ambassador Ruud Gullit, who won the silverware with the Rossoneri in 1989 and 1990, and UniCredit ambassador Luís Figo – champion with Real Madrid CF in 2002.
"It's an honour," Dutchman Gullit said of his role. "I won this trophy two times, and I know what it means to me – to win the Champions League trophy as a person and as a footballer is the maximum. I feel a bit of nostalgia ... it was 25 or 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.
"For the fans [the trophy tour] provides the opportunity to get close to the trophy. You have the chance to feel and see and even touch it. You can take a picture and you see the history of this trophy, [which teams] have won it, and which players."
Former Portuguese international Figo added: "Normally [the fans] only have the chance to see it on TV, so now they can feel the passion for football and for this competition even closer to them. It means a lot to win this competition. You dream of it since childhood and when you start your career as a professional, you always have it in your mind to reach the final of the Champions League one day. When I had the chance to win it, it was a dream come true."
UniCredit deputy general manager Paulo Fiorentino said the trophy was an important icon, and that the tour gave fans a great chance to see it, take pictures and meet notable players like Gullit and Figo. The goal, he added, was to make the trophy accessible and involve supporters through grassroots activities.
One key grassroots initiative which kicked off in Milan, was the UniCredit Cup, a youth football tournament, played on six Sundays at the tour's main destinations. It will feature 32 teams of children born in 2000/01 who belong to sides associated with the Centro Sportivo Italiano, which trains youngsters in different sports. The tournament is being played in accordance with values dear to UEFA, such as Respect and fair play.
The trophy tour will grace other football-mad cities in Italy – Turin, Bologna, Palermo and Naples – on its way to the finale in Rome from 19–22 October. A free exhibition will be open to fans, who will be able to take a photograph with the trophy and receive autographs from the ambassadors. Smaller stops, with trophy photo opportunities, will be held in Verona, Venice and Florence. The tour will also comprise media events, with UEFA and UniCredit representatives joining football celebrities to talk about the magic of European club football's blue-riband competition.
In Turin, Bologna, Palermo, Naples and Rome, visitors will also be invited to visit the huge UniCredit Arena, a large pop-up stadium. Complete with entrance tunnel, it offers fans computer-simulated shots on goal which will give them a fascinating experience of how it feels to take part in a UEFA Champions League match. A video cube, consisting of four giant TV screens, will add to the atmosphere. The memorabilia exhibition includes players' boots, jerseys and a changing room where kits from all 13 UEFA Champions League-winning clubs are displayed.
Trophy tour schedule
18 September: Verona
21–23 September: Turin (Piazza Vittorio Veneto)
25–26 September: Venice (Piazza San Marco)
28–30 September: Bologna (Piazza XX Settembre)
2 October: Florence (Piazza della Repubblica)
5–7 October: Palermo
12–14 October: Naples (Piazza del Plebiscito)
19–22 October: Rome (Piazza del Popolo)