Did you know that a team warms up on the same side of the stadium where their dressing room is? All part of the meticulous detail that went into organising the UEFA Europa Conference League final.
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Nobody was quite sure how big the Europa Conference League final would be when the inaugural season of UEFA's newest club competition kicked off back in July. Planning had to be dynamic and, even before finalists Roma and Feyenoord had been confirmed, they were ready for what project leader Rémi Decouacon labelled – several times – "a huge operation". It did not disappoint.
In this piece presented by Engelbert Strauss, we discover how UEFA ensured that Tirana's beautiful National Stadium was made fit for the grand occasion that was the Europa Conference League final.
"It's a huge operation not only in the National Arena but also all around the city," Decouacon said, stood on the pristine pitch on the eve of the final. "We basically take over the arena ten days before the game itself and during those ten days we have to set up, starting from scratch and setting up everything."
Most obviously, this involved the visual transformation of the venue, decorating the tiers of the stands in the competition colours as well as setting up pitchside boards, media and hospitality areas. UEFA's special signage team do the hard work, and the branding is not contained to the stadium.
Final organisation in numbers
385 Volunteers (Albanian, Italian, Turkish)
380 On-site broadcast personnel
230 Performers and pre-match ceremony crew
170 Accredited press and photographers
"It's not only about one 90-minute football match but everything that is happening also in the city, with the fan meeting points and the fan festival," continued Decouacon. Well over 50,000 Roma and Feyenoord supporters descended on Tirana for the showpiece on 25 May, and from the moment they entered the airport terminal they had a flavour of what was to come.
Back at the stadium, senior football operations manager Reto Meier was focusing on ensuring everything ran as smoothly as possible for the teams. For the previous 139 games of the 2021/22 Europa Conference League, the home team largely calls the shots but, says Meier, for the final "effectively we have two away teams and UEFA takes over the organisation."
That organisation is granular, too: nothing is left to chance. Meier emphasises the point: "We really align so that everything is on the same side. If the dressing room is on the right-hand side, so is that team's bench, where they warm-up, everything – all on the same side, no crossover." It is not a happy accident that teams warm up in front of their own fans, either. All planned.
All the hard work was rewarded with a memorable final – for victors Roma, but also Feyenoord and even Albania. The nation's prime minister, Edi Rama, was delighted. "It is the first time Albania have hosted a European final, something that would once have been inconceivable," he told Tuttosport. "Everyone who came will no doubt be back again one day, and now we have one the most beautiful stadiums in Europe."
The hard work was well worth it.