Barcelona's Europe-conquering heroes paraded in an open-top, double-decker bus through cheering, packed streets and arrived to a roar of welcome at a bursting Camp Nou stadium.
Brandishing the UEFA Champions League trophy from their sublime 3-1 victory over Manchester United in London's Wembley stadium yesterday, players made a victorious entry one by one to their home pitch. The bigggest cheer from the 98,000-capacity crowd erupted for man of the match Lionel Messi, who scored the second goal.
"Actually, I have nothing to say to you," said the Messi, famed as a man of few words. "Simply, let's enjoy all this. Thank you for this season. And I hope we will be able to enjoy a lot more."
French international Eric Abidal, who has recovered from surgery to remove a liver tumour only two months ago, thanked captain Carles Puyol for allowing him the honour of receiving the trophy in Wembley. "Thanks to the captain for his gesture. It was the best day of my career," Abidal said.
Thank you for this season. And I hope we will be able to enjoy a lot more.
Defender Gerard Pique chose the venue to hit out at a slew of allegations against the team in the past season, some made by arch rivals Real Madrid, who they defeated to take the league title. "We don't take drugs. We don't take dives. And we don't buy referees. We just play football," said Pique.
The team had arrived in Barcelona from London just a few hours earlier. Accompanied by the deafening blast of Brazilian samba music and cheered by thousands of fans under a baking hot sun, the heroes weaved through the city in their bus, decked out in Barcelona's red and blue and the word "Champions" on the sides.
Wearing t-shirts emblazoned "CHA-MPI-ONS", coach Joseph Guardiola and his men were driven past the city's statue of Chrisopher Columbus, thronged with fans, some clinging on to the memorial for a better view. A few paces in front of the bus, Catalan mounted police paraded in red full-dress uniform.