Inside the Champions League draw with Giorgio Marchetti – including stars briefed on balls
Do you support a club that has competed in the Champions League in the last 20 years? Then chances are you'll be familiar with a man by the name of Giorgio Marchetti.
Smart, bespectacled and with just a hint of Claudio Ranieri about him, Marchetti only comes into the consciousness of the average fan a few times per season. The 63-year-old is the Deputy General Secretary of UEFA, but is best known to most as the man who conducts the draws for the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League throughout the campaign.
It's a role that has seen Marchetti develop something of a cult following over the years, with supporters often tweeting their support for the Italian during the draw for each competition. Marchetti will be back on our TV screens on Thursday evening; swirling the balls, explaining the draw procedure and chit-chatting with famous ex-pros as clubs await their fate in the Champions League
Ahead of the draw, which features Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle, Daily Star Sport spoke exclusively to Marchetti – the man behind the balls – who admitted a sense of pressure during proceedings, even after all this time.
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"If I said no I would be a liar," Marchetti replies when asked if he feels the eyeballs of the various club directors from around Europe on him during each draw. "But the eyeballs of the clubs are nothing when I think of the millions eyeballs of the fans.
"You feel huge pressure when you are live to deliver something which catches such eager attention among worldwide football fans.
"What I try to do is to avoid thinking about anything which is not what’s happening on stage and following our procedure correctly. That’s not always easy, at times I feel I would need some kind of zen technique…"
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"When I travel I see that some people recognise me but I always feel a bit embarrassed. As a football passionate myself, I am just happy when I feel that fans like my very small contribution to their game."
Draws for the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League usually go off without a hitch – save one or two examples over the years. That doesn't happen by chance, and it's thanks to the help of technology.
"The Champions League group phase is no doubt the most complex draw we have to perform across our competitions," Marchetti explains. "Europa League and Conference League are the same. There are so many conditions that we have to respect.
"These draws would be impossible to make without the support of technology. So, the draw preparation sees in priority the feeding and testing of the software that shows the available options. But the stage preparation, the balls with the right club names and group letters (700 balls, including those used in rehearsals), the screens, the review of the scripts and many other activities…
"And for me, obviously, the thorough study of data and information required during the show."
The Champions League draw itself lasts roughly half an hour and will be screened live to expectant television audiences around the world. But as with so many big broadcasts, the incredible effort that goes on behind-the-scenes belies the seamless nature of what football fans will experience through their TV on Thursday night.
Even the big name ex-football ambassadors get a briefing on how to open the pesky balls containing each club name, which have caused more than a few problems down the years.
"[Fans] don’t see the backstage with so many specialists and technicians sitting in front of computer screens, the hectic work of all staff in charge of various functions, directing traffic on stage and making sure that all technical elements are correctly in place, checking many times the draw balls, the arrival of our ambassador, their briefing on how to open the balls," Marchetti says.
"It is hard to believe that world famous stars may feel the pressure when they are live on stage and need to do a simple gesture like opening a ball…but it’s true."
While the core elements of the Champions League draw have remained the same over recent years, largely thanks to the consistent format of the competition, things are set to change next season.
UEFA are introducing a new 'Swiss-style' group stage that will see each team play eight matches, four at home and four away, over a ten-week period, replacing the traditional group stage format.
It means new rules, potentially new teams, and a new draw procedure. "Next year it will be different, as our club competitions will enter a new era with a completely different format," Marchetti explains.
"We have been working for long time already on the new features and the software changes that are needed. I cannot say more for the time being, we will unveil it next year. I hope you will like it…"