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Love letters to the Champions League

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; UEFA.com reporters on their love for the UEFA Champions League.

It's been 55 days and counting since we last settled in for a night of UEFA Champions League action – and how we miss it.

UEFA.com editors, reporters and correspondents from all over Europe try to ease the pain by looking back on how and why they fell in love with Europe's premier club competition.

Nuno Tavares, longingly from Portugal

Deco and Ronaldinho in action for Barcelona
Deco and Ronaldinho in action for BarcelonaGetty Images

It is just a game, you might say. Not for me, it isn’t. In my dreams I was the one assisting Rabah Madjer for his magic back-heel in Vienna in 1987. I ran alongside José Mourinho at Old Trafford as though the bell had just rung on the last day of school. I was the third musketeer of that perfect partnership between Deco and Ronaldinho.

I never did make the grade, but the next best thing is reporting on these peerless occasions. I miss it all. Even the cold and wet Wednesday nights when a late goal forces me to rewrite my entire match report with the clock ticking fast. How I miss it.

I crave it in the same way the grass screams for a ball. Humming the Champions League anthem is not enough any more. I relive every pass, every save, every shot, every goal like in an everlasting dream. I would love to continue to explain why it’s not simply a game, but duty calls; Fernando Redondo has just hypnotised Henning Berg and is waiting for me to ghost in at the back post. In my dreams at least.

Philip Röber, longingly from Germany

While acutely aware that there are many more important issues out there at the moment, for me it's hard to ignore completely the absence of football considering the Champions League usually defines the most exciting parts of my profession. That trip to the stadium, passing buses full of anxious fans also heading to the game; entering the ground several hours before kick-off and experiencing the transition of empty stands to a buzzing hotspot full of expectation, hope and emotion.

Those 90-plus minutes are always different, yet always a challenge: trying to keep a balance between following the action and delivering live reporting on various channels; already thinking about the aftermath, only to witness one more twist so rich in drama that it knocks your socks off. These nights can easily have an effect that lasts for days and sometimes much longer; it is impossible not to feel the void without them.

Paolo Menicucci, longingly from Italy

Inter icon Javier Zanetti
Inter icon Javier ZanettiGetty Images

Living in Milan, the Champions League has often been synonymous with San Siro for me. The legendary stadium is particularly special on European nights – Milan and Inter and their stars. Icons like Paolo Maldini, the symbol of Milan’s elegance and beauty; or Javier Zanetti, an Argentinian so rooted in Nerazzurri culture – composed, stylish, hard-working – that he could pass for a local. And the goals. Difficult to name one better than Dejan Stanković’s incredible volley from the centre circle against Schalke in the 2010/11 quarter-finals.

But ask me to pick the greatest game I’ve seen at San Siro and I won’t hesitate. It was the night Mother Nature played her part in creating the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. Heavy rain, lightning flashes and thunder. A perfect storm drowned out by the screaming Milan fans as their team put in one of the competition’s all-time great performances in the 2006/07 semi-final second leg against Manchester United.

Goals from Kaká, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino overturned a first-leg deficit and set the Rossoneri on course for their seventh European crown. “Perfection is not of this world,” Samuel Beckett said. Well, if you were a Milan fan at San Siro that night, you might disagree.

Dmitri Rogovitski, longingly from Russia

It was autumn 1995. Spartak Moskva beat Blackburn, Legia and Rosenborg twice each to win six out of six in the UEFA Champions League group stage. This is how I fell in love with this team and this competition.

Spartak were the only Russian regulars in the Champions League in the 1990s, hosting Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and other big names. I remember the 4-1 victory over Arsenal in November 2000 as one of the most vivid football experiences of my life; not even -10C biting frost could spoil my happiness at a packed Luzhniki.

Eight years later and again at the Luzhniki – only this time in pouring rain – I watched the dramatic final between Manchester United and Chelsea. I saw Cristiano Ronaldo's goal and John Terry's tears. These were emotions I cannot compare to anything else.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights are sacred for me in autumn and spring. No going to the movies or theatre, no going for a walk or to bed early. This is the time for my favourite competition in the world; the time for spectacle and passion; the time for something beautiful and always surprising. Life is not the same without it.

Joe Walker, longingly from Spain

Antoine Griezmann scores past Manuel Neuer in 2016
Antoine Griezmann scores past Manuel Neuer in 2016Bongarts/Getty Images

As Antoine Griezmann bore down on Manuel Neuer at the Football Arena Munich, I remember thinking for a split-second: "Surely not?!" But this was – and still remains – Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid, and the outcome was inevitable. Against the odds, with another backs-to-the-wall display at a European giant, the Rojiblancos had made it to a second UEFA Champions League final in three seasons. Even the hardest of football’s hard men, Simeone looked emotionally shot at full time. These are the kind of sporting emotions only football, and in particular this tournament, can elicit.

I have been privileged to have a front-row seat over the past six years as Madrid has become the European capital of football. Two derby finals, four titles for Real Madrid – including the famed Décima – in addition to hosting last season's showpiece when Divock Origi sealed Liverpool’s success; before becoming the location where the Reds’ title defence foundered this term.

The buzz of the Champions League anthem, under the lights, with the world’s best players in front of us is something we should cherish – and never take for granted. The song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell that says ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’ sounds particularly poignant right now.

Christian Châtelet, longingly from France

Dear Champions League,

You have not always been kind to French clubs in recent years; nor if I cast my mind a little further back. Or even earlier, prior to your being known as the UEFA Champions League. Indeed only Marseille, in 1993, have lifted the trophy, but our affection for you has nevertheless continued to grow.

I think of all those occasions when we came so close to requited love. Yes, Porto swept Monaco aside in the 2004 final in Gelsenkirchen but it could have been so different had Ludovic Giuly not limped off after just 23 minutes. And what if Paris had not fallen foul of Barcelona’s 'Remontada' in 2017? It matters not, for we remain faithful – mesmerised by the nights and the moments you produce; as your iconic anthem says so aptly, “ils sont les meilleurs”.

We can’t wait for you to be back.

Tom Kell, longingly from England

Ole Gunnar Solskjær scores in the 1999 final
Ole Gunnar Solskjær scores in the 1999 finalIcon Sport via Getty Images

From racing in front of the TV to catch the anthem as a child to experiencing in person the buzz those same sounds generate around the stadium in the lead-up to a final – the UEFA Champions League sets the pulse racing of not only fans worldwide, but also players, coaches and yours truly.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s incredible winner in the 1999 final, for example, is seared into my mind – our family living room had rarely been in such disbelief – and is one of those moments which set me on the path to craving a career in football. That Zidane volley, Ronaldo’s standing ovation, Batistuta scoring at Wembley, the 'Miracle of Istanbul', Rooney’s hat-trick, Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool, Messi’s five, Barcelona’s ‘Remontada’ and You’ll Never Walk Alone in person in Madrid last year – these are all indelible memories. They’re the sort of memories football fans cherish – particularly now.

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