Accustomed to open-top bus parades, supporters of FC Barcelona turned out in their hundreds of thousands to greet the UEFA Champions League winners as they returned home.
Having celebrated their 21st Spanish Liga title in similar fashion just over a fortnight ago, the Blaugrana this time meandered through the city proudly displaying the European Champion Clubs’ Cup they acquired at Wembley the night before by defeating Manchester United FC 3-1.
Joy and excitement abounded as a charter flight containing the victorious squad touched down at El Prat Airport at 16.00CET, with coach Josep Guardiola and club captain Carles Puyol the first to emerge from the plane, each gripping the world-renowned trophy as they made their way down the steps.
From there, the four-time winners of European club football’s elite prize headed for the city’s World Trade Centre to commence a two-and-a-half hour trek through an estimated one million-plus crowd en route to their final destination, an expectant Camp Nou.
Once inside the stadium, each player was introduced onto a specially erected stage to roars of appreciation. “The trophies we have won this season cost so much effort, so we want you to enjoy them,” Puyol told the adoring public.
“Thanks so much to you all for making us feel so happy,” Guardiola added. “We appreciate everyone who came out to greet us and also those who travelled with us to London. “Your support through the year has been great and we hope to repeat these feats next year”.”
The tournament’s top marksman for the last three seasons, and scorer of his team’s second goal in the 3-1 defeat of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, Lionel Messi, said he had “little to say” except that he wanted the fans to “take pleasure” in the Azulgrana’s achievements. “Long live Barça and long live Catalonia,” the Argentina striker concluded.
One of the biggest cheers was reserved for Éric Abidal, who was the first player to lift the UEFA Champions League Trophy on Saturday evening, the French international having fully recovered from an operation to remove a liver tumour in March. “This is without doubt the happiest day of my football career,” the 31-year-old said. “Most of all I would like to thank our captain, Carles Puyol, for his great gesture (in allowing me to raise the cup) last night.”
To a backdrop of fireworks and music, the European champions – whose four wins move them alongside AFC Ajax and FC Bayern München on the competition’s leaderboard – performed a lap of honour before making their way back down the tunnel to join waiting family and friends, with whom the revelry would continue long into the night.