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LIFTING THE LID

What goes on behind the scenes at the UEFA Champions League draw?

With the superyachts, beaming sun and crystal-clear waters of the French Riviera, there are worse places to be in the world than Monaco as it gears up for the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League draw.

This will be my third time presenting the draw – my hattrick year – and with each year my excitement grows. It’s such an honour to be a part of such a prestigious event.

The draw takes place on a Thursday but we’ll arrive on Tuesday morning.

Keeping good company

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Keeping good company

I’ll be presenting alongside UEFA stalwart and my good friend Pedro Pinto. We’ll sit down together with the production staff and go through the script, which will have been sent well in advance.

Everyone chips in and we make any amendments we feel are needed, as well as considering what questions we’ll be asking our guests throughout the draw.

I’ll start Wednesday by going to the gym to clear my head, then it will be on to another rehearsal. The evening rehearsal will be a full-on technical one, where we’ll see the stage and VTs.

We do a practice draw to make sure all the technical aspects are working, specifically the actual drawing of the balls and allotting of the groups, because that has to be completely watertight. It’s always fascinating to see who gets who when it doesn’t count!

He’s not letting go

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He’s not letting go

To make sure our timings are spot on we’ll get UEFA staff to stand in for our guests, so someone gets the lucky job of pretending to be Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi for five minutes.

It’s an early start on the Thursday for the final rehearsal, because Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA’s Deputy General Secretary, has loads of meetings scheduled throughout the day. Often there is one more before the show starts, if there’s anything in particular that needs ironing out.

The draw starts at 6pm but in the build up there’s a hive of activity backstage with people coming in and out, special guests getting mic’d up, sound checks, people with cameras filming behind-the-scenes footage and more organised chaos.

I remember standing backstage with Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos in 2017, who I knew well from my time working at Real Madrid.

Old friends

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Old friends

I went out and hosted the draw, which happened to group Madrid and Tottenham together, and Modric caught up with me after and said: “I knew it would be Spurs!”

Then Ramos tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Tottenham is your team, isn’t it?”. He was quickly followed by Florentino Perez, who grinned at me mischievously and said: “Ahh, we’re playing your team so we need to talk tactics.”

I then turned on my phone to see all my Spurs mates grilling me about having to play Madrid, so I couldn’t win either way. Spurs ended up topping that group so they needn’t have worried.

As with all these UEFA events, everything is run with mechanical efficiency. But there is the odd occasion when something happens to keep you on your toes.

I remember one year when there was a problem with the balls and the bottom of one of the bowls fell off. I’ve never actually had a chance to open them because they are kept in a special place and only a select group of people are allowed near them, for obvious reasons, but they can look quite challenging!

I was talking about that year with Michael Heselschwerdt, UEFA’S Head of Club Competitions last night. He said the balls are the most nerve-wracking part of the whole process, because if they don’t work then the whole event falls apart.

But that issue has been fixed this year, so there’s no danger of it happening again – phew!

Throughout the draw there will be awards given out to the Men’s Player of the Year and the Women’s Player of the Year as well as the best goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward from last season’s Champions League.

Eric Cantona will also be receiving the 2019 UEFA President’s Award, following in the footsteps of David Beckham and Francesco Totti, which will be a special moment.

Overall it should be a great night, and one I’m very much looking forward to. Just don’t blame me if your team end up getting a tough draw!

On the ball

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On the ball

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