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How UEFA prepares for Champions League and Europa League draws

It all looks so polished, but how does UEFA prepare for draws? Antonio Giachino and Michael Heselschwerdt explain.

Antonio Giachino oversees preparations for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw
Antonio Giachino oversees preparations for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw ©Getty Images

It all looks so polished on TV. Pedro Pinto presenting, smartly suited UEFA officials joining him on stage along with former greats who assist in deciding each team's knockout fate. Undoubtedly a smooth operation.

But what about the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure the big draws take place without any hiccups? Ahead of Monday's UEFA Champions League round of 16, UEFA Europa League round of 32 and UEFA Youth League knockout play-off draws in Nyon, senior club competitions manager Antonio Giachino and head of club competitions Michael Heselschwerdt explain...

How long does it take to prepare for draws like the ones on Monday?

Antonio: I try to split the preparations across two weeks. It isn't possible to prepare everything the night before. You need to start after Matchday 5 and start thinking about all the possible scenarios: who can qualify, who can be eliminated, who can go from the Champions League into the Europa League and so on, so we start at the end of November.

The UEFA Champions League round of 16 and the UEFA Europa League round of 32 draws are the hardest to organise from a logistical perspective. You have a lot of draw balls to prepare and a lot of possible scenarios, and also because the draws are staged on the same day as the UYL [UEFA Youth League] knockout play-offs.  

Eight of the 1,440 draw balls prepared
Eight of the 1,440 draw balls prepared©UEFA.com

From a calendar perspective, the date of the matches for the UCL [UEFA Champions League] round of 16 and the UEL [UEFA Europa League] round of 32 are determined by your final position in the group stage. UCL and UEL group winners play the return leg at home.

Take us through the preparations from start to finish.

Antonio:It's quite intensive. First of all, you have to look at all the clubs that can qualify. Then you start thinking about the best way to prepare based on those teams. Next, you think about all the materials required for the draw – the draw balls, the bowls, the slips of paper. You then work with logistics to ensure everything is available.

There are 1,440 balls to prepare for Monday's draws, which is quite a lot. You have to prepare three sets per draw. The first set is for the rehearsals which take place on the day of the draw. You prepare another set for the draws themselves, and then another, extra set in case something happens.

Michael: It goes without saying that we follow all the matches and discuss possible implications on the draw [stadium, city clashes] and the scheduling towards the end of the group stage, but for me the in-depth preparations normally start the week before. Antonio prepares the draft speeches and statistics for each club, so you read them and get into draw mode.

As far as the final preparations are concerned I go through it again the evening before just to be safe. In the morning we start with rehearsals, which are very important, so we have an hour or so where we can spot anything and say, "We need to look into this or that".

Michael Heselschwerdt on stage with Massimiliano Allegri last year
Michael Heselschwerdt on stage with Massimiliano Allegri last year©UEFA via Getty Images

How do you ensure that the draw is fair?

Antonio:We ask auditors to come on the day of the draws. Firstly, they check that the closing of the draw balls takes place correctly and in accordance with the draw procedures. Then they are responsible for taking care of the draw sets until the balls are put in the bowls on the stage. Essentially, they are in charge of making sure none of the materials are compromised.

Do you ever get nervous about making a mistake?

Antonio Giachino checks everything is in order
Antonio Giachino checks everything is in order©Getty Images

Antonio: I'm confident because I believe in my ability to conduct a draw, but whenever anyone asks me if everything is okay, I say, "Wait until the end of the draw and I will tell you." The devil is always around the corner and mistakes can easily happen.

Michael: We learn from other draws taking place at UEFA and with other organisations to minimise mistakes. We have established several procedures by identifying critical factors which negatively influence the staging of the draws. These procedures will allow us to continue the delivery of services.

Can you envisage a time when the draw is done by computer?

Michael: It could happen because it would make the draw simpler, but in my opinion the clubs like to see their team drawn: they like to be there, see the draw balls. I think there would be something missing if you just pressed a button and whoosh, all the fixtures were done.