How does a top football player and ATPI prepare for the Champions League final?
In Europe, there’s no sport that can rival football, and no event as all-encompassing as the Champions League. We’d even go so far as to say that there’s no time as tense as the build-up to the final. For fans, it holds the promise of victory in front of a sell-out crowd. For the players, it’s the ultimate reward after a hard-fought season. For ATPI, it’s the time when everything comes together.
To find out how the players and the people behind-the-scenes prepare for a Champions League final, we spoke to Frank de Boer, 1995 Champions League winner with Ajax, and Monique Koot, Senior Project Manager at ATPI. One event and two very different experiences – with some surprisingly similarities.
Frank is known as a man of few words; he prefers to let his performance on the pitch do the talking. But mention the Champions League in conversation and you’ll see a smile appear on his face and a glint in his eye.
“With every Champions League final, the memories come back,” he explains. “In ’95, Ajax played in the final against AC Milan and against Juventus the following year. Of course, we won that first year and that’s unforgettable. Every footballer who gets to be in that position will confirm that; it’s the thing you dream about as a small child and, when it comes true, when you’re really in the final, it’s unforgettable. It’s the highest accolade you can achieve at club level.”
This unforgettable feeling applies not only to the players but also to the fans and sponsors who have passionately followed and supported their teams throughout the season.
For Monique, the final represents the culmination of her team’s hard work.
“I’m one of ATPI’s Senior Project Managers and, among other things, I’m responsible for the Champions League final,” she reveals. “I arrange everything related to the final for our clients. You have to consider the entire guest experience, from travel, hotels, and hospitality to guidance, event logistics, and our guest programmes.
“It’s important that our clients and their guests have everything they need to enjoy the Champions League final. It should be an unforgettable adventure; a weekend spent making memories, having good conversations, and enjoying sports and activities. It’s wonderful to put together but at the same time, it can feel like assembling a giant puzzle – there are always last-minute surprises to consider.”
“That’s just like football,” Frank agrees.
Reacting quickly and being flexible are qualities that are important on the pitch and for an ATPI project manager.
“At the end of February, the war in Ukraine led to the final moving from St Petersburg to Paris,” recalls Monique. “In that situation, you have to throw away all your preparation and start again. I cancelled everything in St Petersburg and started frantically searching for hotels in Paris, as well as putting together a new programme. To put the scale of this challenge in perspective, we were already three months behind schedule and had another major sporting event – Roland Garros – putting a lot of pressure on the hotels. It was a race against the clock to get everything ready for our clients.”
There’s more than enough pressure to get your adrenalin pumping - a feeling that’s very familiar to Frank: “We start preparing for a final like this at the beginning of the season but, for that last game, you’re extra nervous. I was always quiet but even quieter before the game. I went into myself so I could concentrate on playing out different scenarios in my head.
“You try to predict what could happen and how you would deal with it. Our coach Louis van Gaal said something that stuck with me, ‘You have to imagine what can happen in the game. Do that in advance and you’ll be prepared.’ So that’s what I did. The nerves disappeared as soon as I heard the whistle. Then it’s time to do what you’re good at without overthinking it.”
Attention to Detail
“When under high pressure, it’s important that you can rely on your knowledge, your network, and your colleagues,’ says Monique. “If you need to put together a complete programme in such a short time, you can’t do it alone. Fortunately, at ATPI, we’re all professionals. It isn’t our first big event and we’re used to handling stressful situations.”
Paying attention to the details can make all the difference whether you are event planning or playing football.
“The more information you have in advance, the better. That way you can empathise with your opponent and analyse their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the final,” says Frank. “When I was playing, you had to rely on the matches you’d already played against the team. At most, our coach had a video that they could use to analyse our opponents’ playing style. I need to know about that one midfielder who can spot every hole in a defence so that, when he gets the ball, I know to pay him extra attention. Those details can be decisive during the match.”
There are several similarities between event management and football, but one of the most important is being able to count on your teammates.
“When you’re playing in such an important final, team spirit is often very good. You’ve worked alongside the same team for a long time and you’re all focused on a shared goal. You can only achieve that goal if you support one another,” explains Frank. “It’s almost impossible to reach the Champions League final if there are problems in the team. In our case, we had great team spirit. We’d already had a great season, knew everything about each other, and understood one another’s strengths and weaknesses. That, combined with a very good coach, will make you reach the final. It’s true of both teams that reach the final and that makes it feel extra exciting – especially if you win!”
The ATPI team also recognises that working with the right people can make a big difference.
“To make this event a success in such a short time, we had to expand our team considerably,” says Monique. “Fortunately, we don’t only have our own people at our disposal, we can always work flexibly with trusted freelance professionals. We keep the atmosphere light by getting together a lot, planning team activities and, above all, laughing together. Long hours and working weekends aren’t a problem when we all do it together. Our clients are also part of the team; we’re really all in the game together. That’s what makes this work so fascinating and wonderful.”