Istanbul was the setting for the last-ever UEFA Cup handover ceremony as a delegation from 2008 trophy winners FC Zenit St. Petersburg returned the silverware to UEFA and President Michel Platini in the host city of this season's final.
As has become tradition, the UEFA President received the trophy from the holders and then handed it over to the Mayor of Istanbul, Kadir Topbaş, for safekeeping during a ceremony at the Turkish city's historical Esma Sultan Yalısı mansion, overlooking the Bosphorus.
Mr Platini said Istanbul was a fitting venue for what will be the last UEFA Cup final taking place at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on Wednesday 20 May before the famous competition becomes the UEFA Europa League next season. "It is a very nice feeling to stage such an event in a country that has truly passionate fans," said the UEFA President. "We can feel the huge media interest in the event just from being in this room, and I am sure it will be a fantastic final.
Changes for the better
"The UEFA Cup was the only trophy I couldn't win as a player, and unfortunately I won't have the chance any more. As a modern institution, we have taken the decision to change the competition structure and name. These changes will make this deep-rooted competition even better. More clubs and fans will have the possibility of enjoying European football and its excitement. The success of the Europa League is very important to UEFA."
Zenit midfield player Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who lifted the prize following the Russian club's victory in Manchester last May, stressed the value of the competition after giving back the trophy to Mr Platini. "Last year we knocked out strong teams like Olympique Marseille, Bayern München and Villarreal," he said. "It was not an easy thing to do. It is hard to find a word to describe winning this trophy, and it is something we would hope to experience again in the future." Tymoshchuk was accompanied by fellow Zenit delegates Maxim Mitrofanov, the chief executive, and Vladislav Radimov, the team manager.
Four years on
Istanbul's Mayor Topbaş, the recipient of the cup, which will be displayed to the public over the next four weeks, spoke of the growing anticipation in the city as it prepares for the showpiece event. "I am as excited as the players who have won this trophy in the past. Istanbul staged the UEFA Champions League final in 2005, and now the UEFA Cup final I am happy and proud. This year's final will be as successful as the one four years ago."
If semi-finalists FC Dynamo Kyiv, FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Werder Bremen and Hamburger SV have a job to maintain the standards of the Liverpool FC v AC Milan thriller in 2005, Turkish Football Association President Mahmut Özgener is at least confident of a perfect day on 20 May. He said: "Thanks to the finishing touches made to the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, the venue is ready to welcome German and Ukrainian fans as a perfect host. We have been preparing for this final for three years and our excitement increases by the day." To maximise expectation levels, the trophy will be on tour in Istanbul ahead of the big game.