The UEFA Europa League embraced the tradition of a handover ceremony as last year's final UEFA Cup winners symbolically passed on the trophy to UEFA and the city of Hamburg.
Article top media content
Hamburg staged the inaugural UEFA Europa League trophy handover as last season's final UEFA Cup winners FC Shakhtar Donetsk presented the silverware to UEFA in the host city for this year's final.
It had become tradition for the UEFA Cup holders to give back the trophy as a symbolic act in the build-up to the following May's final, and today's ceremony in the impressive surroundings of the Fischauktionshalle in the northern German city continued the custom for the new UEFA Europa League.
After collecting the trophy from the Shakhtar delegation, UEFA president Michel Platini passed it on to the city of Hamburg, as represented by mayor Ole von Beust and UEFA Europa League final ambassador Uwe Seeler, the former Hamburger SV forward.
The handover was followed by a news conference in which Michel Platini offered a glowing endorsement of the UEFA Europa League. The UEFA president hailed the "very good structure" of the new competition, whose opening season reaches a climax at the Hamburg Arena on Wednesday 12 May. "The UEFA Europa League is representing the heart of European football," he said.
Hamburg, a host city for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, staged one final during the UEFA Cup era – the second leg of the IFK Göteborg-Hamburger SV final in 1982, which the German club lost 4-0 on aggregate.
This season's final ambassador, famed former Germany striker Uwe Seeler, is looking forward to the semi-finals, featuring his old club HSV, their last-four opponents Fulham FC, Club Atlético de Madrid and Liverpool FC. Putting aside any local favouritism, Seeler said: "It is going to be a fantastic final. It is a wonderful stadium and the right place for such a match."
Hamburg's mayor Ole von Beust, who had also heard the UEFA president express his confidence in the host city, was delighted to take hold of the trophy, which will be displayed to the public until the big match. "This is a great opportunity for the city, because the whole of Europe will have their eyes on Hamburg and we want to show what a nice and friendly place we are," he said.
HSV, Fulham, Atlético and Liverpool were given further incentive to get through their semi-finals – to be played on 22 and 29 April – when last season's UEFA Cup-winning coach, Shakhtar's Mircea Lucescu, said: "It was a fantastic moment to lift the trophy, something unique that I will never forget. It was a really tough competition and we overcame some of the best teams in Europe."
Lucescu was accompanied by Shakhtar defender Mariusz Lewandowski and striker Jadson, who scored the last-ever UEFA Cup goal to win the final against Werder Bremen. Also among the dignitaries present at the handover were German Football Association president Theo Zwanziger, HSV president Bernd Hoffmann and Serhiy Palkin, Shakhtar's chief executive.