Sevilla FC coach Juande Ramos said Antonio Puerta would be "present in our hearts" as the grieving Spanish side prepare to face AC Milan in Monaco.
Antonio Puerta was the only player on people's minds as Juande Ramos and Carlo Ancelotti spoke ahead of the 2007 UEFA Super Cup in Monaco.
The 22-year-old Sevilla FC midfielder's death on Tuesday has touched the entire football family, not just in Spain but across the world. Emotional tributes have come from every quarter and all have paid their respects to a homegrown talent who fully embodied his club's spirit in recent years, skill and passion in equal measure as they battled their way to the top table of European football.
That Sevilla are represented at Friday night's high-profile curtain-raiser to the continental club season against the might of AC Milan owes much to Puerta and it is certain his legacy will linger. Two UEFA Cups, the chance to reclaim the UEFA Super Cup and the potential of a first crack at the UEFA Champions League, Sevilla will never forget what their gifted left-footer gave them on their inexorable rise.
'In our hearts'
In acknowledging that he and his players were in a "trance-like" state, Sevilla coach Ramos said: "Well, we don't want to forget him and we are not going to. Antonio Puerta will be with us throughout the season. He is not here physically but of course he will be present in our hearts and present in everything we do and we have to live with his memory."
Sevilla have yet to play since Puerta's death, their UEFA Champions League qualifier at AEK Athens FC having been rearranged from Tuesday to next Monday. The coach, who has last year's UEFA Super Cup star man Daniel Alves available, said he would make a judgement based as much on "mental attitude" as physical fitness. "There is no need to motivate the team through words because they are going to play to the maximum to pay tribute to their friend."
Sevilla's approach was endorsed by Milan, with the European champions' coach summing up the pervading mood. "The aim was to come here, have a great party and play a wonderful match in a great atmosphere but that is not the case now," Ancelotti said. "The match has to be played and we'll do so in a serious way and in the appropriate manner while respecting the grief of the football family and in particular the Puerta family as we're obviously all very sad."
The Italian emphasised that he expected Sevilla to show their togetherness at the Stade Louis II. "Sevilla's style is a secret to no one," he said. "They play as a team and are very compact and it's not by chance that they've won all the finals they've played in. They're strongly motivated and have a dynamic, aggressive style. They're one of the best teams in Europe."
Ramos was equally respectful of the Rossoneri. "Milan have everything," he said simply, although they will be without Paolo Maldini as the veteran defender is yet to recover from a knee injury. The coach added: "We have a tremendous opponent to contend with and what I hope is that we will play at our usual level, with joy and ambition." Joy and ambition. Two words that would be more than appropriate for the playing style of Sevilla's absent No16.