The players of Cuenca and Lodigliani, with a banner with the legend

The players of Cuenca and Lodigliani, with a banner with the legend
The players of Cuenca and Lodigliani, with a banner with the legend “Making friends, not millionaires”.Ivan Zahinos

While the football industry is preparing to live its great annual event, the Champions League final, in the depths of the basement, seven floors below the noble floor, eight European clubs of regional category dispute their particular Champions of the people. Most of them do it in rented fields, before a few hundred fans in the best of cases and with players who, before putting on their boots, are bakers and lawyers; but, like the planetary stars, they have also been touring Europe all season and playing during the week to compete in matches that are broadcast on streaming with double narration (in English and the local language).

The daring bears the name of the Fenix ​​Trophy, a nod to popular football (phoenix) that claims its place in times of global markets. And there a Valencian team participates, Cuenca-Mestallistes, a subsidiary of the Che team in the postwar period, which in two years has gone from being almost hopeless, without a field or squad, to being part of this peculiar tournament. On Wednesdays he gets on planes to compete in Italy, Germany or the Czech Republic, and on the weekend he fights not to be relegated to the Second Regional, the last division. Like this team, the rest of their continental rivals live between the sixth and eighth steps of their football.

They are Brera (Milan), United of Manchester (split from the Red Devils when the American Glazer family took over the property in 2005), Zly (Warsaw), DWS (Amsterdam; Gullit and Rijkaard played there), Lodigliani (Roma; squad where Totti played), Prague Raptors (Czech Republic) and Falke (separated from Hamburg in 2014).

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The audacity, of which there are no known precedents, came from the Brera leaders. “In the second wave of covid, we thought of ideas and felt that our only difference in the city with Inter and Milan was the European competitions,” explains Leonardo Aleotti, president of this club founded in 2000. So they began to move threads and the first team they contacted was Cuenca (originally from Calle Cuenca in Valencia), attracted by its popular character and the figure of its honorary president, Mario Alberto Kempes. And everything ended up shooting when United of Manchester, the great reference of this type of grassroots institutions, agreed to join.

The host team assumes almost all the expenses of the visitor and the retransmission in ‘streaming’

“From then on, the effect was multiplier,” says Vicent Chilet, a Spanish manager and sports journalist. Although not just any team. His identity mattered, but so did other factors. “The sports level had to be similar and be in well-connected cities,” explains Chilet, one of the people who rescued Valencia’s third oldest club from almost disappearance to turn it into an assembly-type entity.

The Cuenca players, with the Falke fans in Hamburg.
The Cuenca players, with the Falke fans in Hamburg.CV

Sets of accessible places so that costs do not skyrocket was one of the premises, and the reason for one of the curious episodes of this adventure in the Valencian offices. “Before facing Falke, on Instagram we began to receive messages from their fans asking us when they would play in Spain. [las fechas se cuadran según la agenda laboral de los jugadores]. I answered innocently what the forecast was and 10 minutes later the president called me to tell me that he shouldn’t have revealed it because the fans were going to take over the plane seats and the team’s trip would become more expensive”, says Chilet, astonished. “It is that in Spain clubs like ours have a hard time taking root among the people, only the big ones are interested, but this does not happen in other places. Falke brought 100 people with flares included and United moved 400 to Poland”, warns the Spanish manager.

There is not much money in this Champions of the humble, so one of the rules is that the host takes care of the entire trip of the visitor, except for the transfer, and also assumes the retransmission on YouTube (the audience peak has reached the 6,000 punctures with United). “It has cost us 14,500 euros, which we have covered with two subsidies from the City Council, membership fees [unos 120]raffles, a sponsor… Because entry to our field is free”, details Vicent Chilet.

The tournament has the approval of UEFA and the goal is to include more teams and more countries

Divided in the first phase of the tournament into two groups of four teams, with two-round matches, along the way they had to improvise a disciplinary code after two Lodigliani players were sent off against Cuenca, and the effects of the pandemic forced suspend all Dutch DWS opening round matches. With whom there were no scares was with UEFA, supervisor of everything. “Through the Italian Federation, we contacted them so that they would have news of the tournament. Above all, because United of Manchester, although not yet in the professional category, is quite well known”, says Vicent Chilet. In this case, its president, Aleksander Ceferin, did not object.

The experience has gone so well that they are already thinking about growing. “In the future we will change to an elimination format to include more teams from more countries,” says promoter Aleotti. On the table is the possibility of reaching 32 teams in the medium term, and another Spaniard could join next season, although nobody wanted to advance names. For now, on June 10, in Rimini (Italy), on the Adriatic coast, the final phase will be held. Lodigliani and United of Manchester are the big favorites for the first title of this European regional football Champions.

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