2019 UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE

SEIZE THE MOMENT

Lifting the trophy is an unforgettable experience that can define a player’s career, as these four former winners explain

1989 | Ciro Ferrara

‘I wasn’t aware of what I had done’

Napoli’s first and so far only European trophy came after a hard-fought two-legged contest with Stuttgart in 1989, the Partenopei battling back to win 2-1 at home before a 3-3 draw in Germany. Defender Ciro Ferrara was among their second-leg scorers and, as he explains, he still enjoys watching his goal, set up by a certain Diego Maradona.

Football in Naples is a religion and an indescribable passion. Wearing the Napoli shirt is the dream of any player born in the city. I had the honour of wearing that prestigious shirt – and I was lucky that Napoli’s best years coincided with my time at the club.

We maybe felt like favourites going into the final, but we didn’t make a good start and went behind. For all of us, it was our first time getting so far in a tournament that important, except for Maradona, who’d won the World Cup. It was something completely new and unique, so we were also very nervous – not just us but the city in general. But there’s always been a magical atmosphere at San Paolo, especially on European nights.

We finished the job away to Stuttgart in front of 20,000 Napoli fans. It was an incredibly happy moment, and we knew it wasn’t just the passionate supporters in Naples who were celebrating, but also our fans all over the world and in Germany, in particular. There was a huge Neapolitan community there, so we knew we’d achieved something incredible for them. Many were immigrants who couldn’t wait to enjoy a moment of great happiness with us.

My goal came from a corner. There was a rebound, the ball was cleared from the area and Maradona, who’d taken the corner, headed it back into the box. I burst into the box, got in front of the defender and hit it on the volley. The goalkeeper couldn’t do anything. I absolutely couldn’t believe it. My face said it all. I was so emotional. I wasn’t aware of what I’d done. It was my team-mates hugging me which brought me back to the present moment.

It was an indescribable feeling. I watch it often and say: “Dear God, what a goal I scored!” It’s really wonderful, even if most people remember Maradona’s header. That goal took us towards victory, because we were winning 2-1 in Germany and obviously in a strong position after the first-leg result. Being from Naples, I was thinking about the joy I was bringing to our fans and to my family, who’d not been able to come to the game but who were watching on TV.

2006 | Andrés Palop

‘The hairs on the back of your neck stand up’

The first of Sevilla’s record five triumphs was a breakthrough for a club that had gone without silverware since clinching the Spanish Cup in 1948. Goalkeeper Andrés Palop looks back on their 2006 final victory in Eindhoven, where Enzo Maresca’s double and goals from Luís Fabiano and Frédéric Kanouté sealed a 4-0 win against English side Middlesborough.

Although I’d been to another UEFA Cup final with Valencia in Gothenburg, I’d never had the chance to be part of it, to feel important on the pitch. Having the chance to play in the final was so exciting. We were a generation of Sevilla players who went on to write history. 

Even now, I have goose bumps talking about the game. I have so many memories from stepping out on to the pitch. Seeing the preparations, the organisation, the colourful stands, your supporters in their end, seeing your family there too. It was a real spectacle for all of us. 

In the game itself, we saw all the hard work we’d put in throughout the season realised. We knew it was going to be difficult and that we’d have to be at our best – and we were. We scored the first goal and then they had a great chance, but I managed to clear Mark Viduka’s shot off the line. After that, the team let loose.

It really doesn’t get much better than the celebrations: lifting the trophy in the middle of the pitch with all your family and team-mates – and being able to celebrate together and say that it’s ours now and that we’ve done it and got our hands on it. That’s the best possible feeling a footballer can experience. Producing a big performance to clinch the title, and getting your hands on a special trophy like that is great. 

We couldn’t wait to get back to Seville. We slept in Eindhoven and travelled back at midday, arriving in the afternoon. We knew there’d be a massive party. Our journey from the airport to the city hall was a sea of red and white, and all the Sevilla fans were there to greet us. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you see elderly people in tears and younger fans so excited by it all. It’d been almost 60 years since their team had won any silverware and it meant so much for us to fulfil their dreams by winning that trophy.

After parading around the city in our open-top bus, we went to the cathedral to give thanks to Our Lady for helping us win. We finished up in the stadium with a massive party, and the players did a lap of honour around the pitch. You don’t get to sleep or rest, but those moments are amazing and unforgettable. Even as the years go by, that was a moment in our lives we’ll never forget. Particularly because the first one is always extra special.

1999 | Hernán Crespo

‘It seemed more like a dream than real life’

With a line-up including Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram, Parma became the last Italian team to lift this trophy in 1999. Argentinian forward Hernán Crespo recalls their landmark 3-0 win against Marseille with pride, having broken the deadlock in Moscow ahead of goals from Paolo Vanoli and Enrico Chiesa.

Back then it was normal for Parma to go far, as it was for Italian teams in general. Today, we’re talking about the fact that Parma were the last Italian team to win the competition, and that makes what we did all the more important, given that we weren’t one of the leading lights.

It was also a situation I’d always dreamt of being in, because I’d grown up watching Diego Maradona play for Napoli. The European Cup wasn’t shown a lot in Argentina, but of course the UEFA Cup was. That was because of Napoli beating Stuttgart in the [1989] final, so for me it was the European cup competition. I grew up watching the UEFA Cup, and I now had the chance to win a trophy that Maradona had won, in a competition I’d watched since I was a kid. To play in a final seemed like utopia to me. It seemed more like a dream than real life.

We always played with the ball on the deck, but, at one point in the game, Roberto Sensini decided to play it long, which was strange for us. It was also strange to see Juan Sebastián Verón win the ball in the air. I went to put pressure on Laurent Blanc, and I saw he was going in for the header. That meant I could either pressure him or go straight towards Stéphane Porato’s goal. I chose well, because Blanc tried to head the ball back towards his own goal and I’d read what he wanted to do and just flicked it over the keeper.

Winning was amazing. At that time, when we lifted the trophy and carried it around to show the fans, there was no big ceremony. We spent more time hugging our team-mates, the coaching staff, the masseurs and kit men. We went running to where our fans were, but the soldiers there wouldn’t let us pass – all of this happening in the cold of Russia! It was a really weird feeling: we’d conquered the world coming from another part of the world. By winning the competition, we’d put Parma, a small Italian city, on the map. That made the whole thing very satisfying.

There’s no doubt it was one of the most important games of my career. Winning the trophy is something I look back on fondly, and with a lot of pride, because I was part of a squad of amazing players who’d all come together at Parma. It’s also because of what came after, with Buffon winning the World Cup with Cannavaro, while Thuram and Alain Boghossian had already just won it with France. It really put all of us up there and showed we could have great careers, which we all went on to do.

2003 | Deco

'I remember the final whistle most clearly - a moment of joy and relief'

European Cup winners in 1986/87, Porto re-emerged as a continental force under José Mourinho, claiming the UEFA Cup in 2002/03 and the UEFA Champions League the following year. Midfielder Deco remembers Mourinho’s impact – and their thrilling 3-2 final win against Celtic in Seville, capped by Derlei’s late strike in extra time.

It was a special occasion as Porto hadn’t been in a European final for many years. There was a real euphoria around the game, and other factors made it special too: I remember the city was beautiful and you had this great invasion of the Celtic supporters. And then, of course, a really spectacular match. 

At the time, we had a special coach in Mourinho. From the first moment I worked with him, I could see he was different. He brought things I’d never seen before in terms of training and knowledge, and being able to foresee what would happen in matches. Almost everything he said could happen would happen. It was spectacular working with him. It was a moment in time when he had everything to give: knowledge, will, desire. He had no fear. In the lead-up, it was just a case of doing what we’d done in our preparations. If we did that, we’d win.

Porto as a club don’t have the resources of a Barcelona or Real Madrid but, as well as Mourinho, we managed to keep a group of players together for a couple of years. We had experienced players like Jorge Costa and Vítor Baía; younger players with quality; and others who’d come from smaller clubs in Portugal but who were top players, like Derlei. Apart from the goals he scored, including two in Seville, he worked hard for the team. If we were in difficulty, we knew we could play a ball up to him and he could hold it up there. 

In the final, we had an early problem with Costinha, who got injured and had to go off, but we controlled the match and got on top. Each time we scored, though, Celtic came back. They played quite a direct game, but with quality players, especially Henrik Larsson, who was a great centre-forward and scored two equalising goals. I played with him later at Barcelona and he was a player who, no matter how well you prepared, would get himself into scoring positions and he certainly gave us difficulties that night.

I remember setting up our second goal for Dmitri Alenichev, when I picked up a loose ball outside the area and managed to turn into space and play it between two defenders, and he ran on to it and finished.

In the end, though, we went to extra time and then you get the fatigue and nerves – and it was so hot too. I lost a lot of weight with the heat, and the moment I remember most clearly was the final whistle, a moment of joy but also relief. We were so tired, and Celtic had made it such a tough game.

This is an extract of a story from the 2019 UEFA Europa League final programme. To read the whole article:

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FIND THE RIGHT BLEND

Chelsea’s mixture of vast experience and youthful exuberance has proved a potent combination on the route to the final.

2019 UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE

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