Chelsea Aim To Seize Their Final Chance And Join European Elite
Posted On Saturday, 19th May 2012
In the Champions League final Roberto Di Matteo hopes to achieve what was beyond Claudio Ranieri, José Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti.
It weighs 18lb. “A big, heavy thing,” according to Pep Guardiola, the last manager to lift it to the skies. It stands 73cm tall and it took 340 hours to complete. “It may not be an artistic masterpiece,” its creator, Jürg Stadelmann, says, “but everybody in football wants to get their hands on it.”
The European Cup, Roman Abramovich’s obsession, can be located at the Allianz Arena on Saturday night and if Bayern Munich beat Chelseato win it for a fifth time Uefa will allow it to remain here on a permanent basis.
“Endspiel-Fieber!” was one of the stand-out headlines on the newspaper stalls on Marienplatz. It translates as “Final Fever” and it is why Jupp Heynckes took his players into the heart of this city on Friday night to soak up the atmosphere around the squares and bierhalle.
“I’m going to take the team through Munich, see everything with red and white flags and talk with the people,” Bayern’s manager said. “What a fantastic preparation for a Champions League final.”
These are the moments when you try to gauge a team’s state of mind and it hasn’t taken long in Munich to realise that the host club are cherishing the possibility of being the first team to win the Champions League on their own ground.
Bayern have a long and distinguished record in European football that already establishes them, whatever happens, as one of the sport’s genuine superpowers.
A win would see them draw level with Liverpool as the third most successful club in the history of this competition. They are, to put it bluntly, exactly where Abramovich would like his own club to be.
Chelsea, in stark contrast, are just trying to get on the first rung of the ladder and soothe the memories of what happened on a rain-soaked pitch in Moscow four years ago when John Terry lost his footing and the penalty that was supposed to herald the greatest moment of his life turned into the most harrowing ordeal of his career.
Terry has talked about thinking of that night in the Luzhniki stadium every day since and it won’t be too far be too far from his mind when he takes his seat as one of the seven players – four from Chelsea, three from Bayern – to suffer the ordeal of being suspended from a match nobody wants to miss. “It’s been hard for everyone,” Frank Lampard said. “You saw what it meant to us with our celebrations after the game in Barcelona. It’s taken us a long time to get back.”
This, however, is about much more than that for Chelsea, just as the issue about this potentially being the final chance for the team synonymous with the Abramovich years – with Didier Drogba likely to leave and Lampard and Terry in their 30s – is only really another subplot.
The real issue here is about the status that comes from winning this competition and the importance for a club with Chelsea’s ambitions and wealth to take its place among the elite. Real Madrid lead the way with nine victories. Milan have seven. Barcelona and Ajax have four, and Manchester United and Internazionale three. Four clubs have lifted the trophy twice and another nine have won it once. In total, there are 21 different names engraved in the silver, yet none from London. Heynckes talked about it being a final between “two clubs with European tradition” but the bottom line is that Chelsea are well behind in this game of catch-up. “It will come,” Roberto Di Matteo promised. “We hope it will be tomorrow but it will come, sooner or later. And when it does it will mean everything to us.”
This has been the ambition of Abramovich ever since his private jet touched down in London nine years ago and he set about the business of turning Chelsea into a serious force. There have been three league titles, four FA Cups and two Carling Cups under the Russian’s watch. He has spent £1bn and counting, including a staggering £65m in compensation for all the hiring and firing of managers.
Now it falls upon Di Matteo to try to achieve what was beyond Claudio Ranieri, José Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti and what seemed inconceivable when André Villas-Boas left the club in March, 11 days after the 3-1 defeat against Napoli.
The alternative, almost certainly, is that Di Matteo goes the same way as everyone else. “He makes an excellent impression on me,” Heynckes said. “If I was Abramovich, I would continue with this young man.”
And Heynckes knows a thing or two about this cut-throat world. He won this competition for Real Madrid in 1998 and was sacked, Abramovich-style, eight days later.
Di Matteo addressed the issue as he has done every single time since he took over from Villas-Boas. The topic, he said, was “not relevant”. An open-top bus parade through the streets of west London would form one hell of a job application, though, and Chelsea can be encouraged by the way Borussia Dortmund took Bayern apart in the German cup final last weekend.
Bayern have surrendered a winning position in the Bundesliga since the winter break and are in danger of emulating the Bayer Leverkusen team of 10 years ago and winning nothing from a position when they were contemplating a potential treble at one point. Given the number of defenders who will be banned – Terry and Branislav Ivanovic for Chelsea and Holger Badstuber and David Alaba for Bayern – the key to this final will almost certainly be which team can reconfigure the more impenetrable back four.
Bayern, however, can be considered favourites, if only because of the benefit of playing inside their own stadium. The Allianz Arena will be lit up in Uefa’s green and blue, rather than the red colour scheme when Bayern are usually at home. The ticket allocations are the same – 17,500 for each club – but there must be an advantage for the team in familiar surroundings.
Bayern, as Heynckes put it, “know every blade of grass and that could make a difference”. They have lost only two Bundesliga fixtures here all season, scoring 49 times and conceding six. They have won 14 of their past 15 Champions League games. “To be playing at home, with your own changing room, in your own city, with your own fans, it’s definitely an advantage for them,” Lampard said. “But being underdogs give you determination.”
Chelsea, after all, would not be here if Di Matteo’s players were susceptible to stagefright, as they proved against Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
“I don’t share the euphoria you hear outside,” Heynckes said. “In a Champions League final there is no favourite. Chelsea have players who have won everything apart from this.”