Roberto Di Matteo finds way to give Roman Abramovich richest payback
Roman Abramovich can buy all the Francis Bacons and Lucian Freuds he wants, but he will never spend £24m better than he spent it on Didier Drogba eight years ago. If this was indeed the great Ivorian's last match in a Chelsea shirt, then what a way he chose to go. Having pulled Chelsea back from the brink of disaster with a goal two minutes before the end of normal time, Drogba converted the penalty that gave them victory at the conclusion of a shootout that had seemed, inexorably and excruciatingly, to be going their opponents' way.
In between times, Drogba had threatened to plunge his side and their supporters into terminal gloom by committing a wholly unnecessary foul on Franck Ribéry inside the Chelsea area early in the first period of extra time. Luckily for him, Petr Cech made a brilliant stop from their old team mate Arjen Robben. To finish off the night, it was Drogba who placed the trophy in the hands of Abramovich. The Russian billionaire must surely feel that, at last, he has got what he paid for.
And another sort of justice was served here in Munich. More than half a century after the myopic blazers of the Football Association and the Football League denied Roy Bentley's team the chance, as the champions of England in 1954-55, to take part in the first edition of the European Cup, their descendants made Chelsea the first London club to hold the most precious of titles. No one could say they did not fight for it, in conditions that hardly conspired to assist them.
Before the kick-off, Bayern's fans had unveiled a huge banner of the European Cup, along with a set of giant messages: UNSER STADT, UNSER STADION, UNSER POKAL ("our town, our stadium, our cup"). It was a graceless statement from a side enjoying home advantage, and Chelsea approached the match like men determined to ram their opponents' assumptions down their throats, forcing them to endure a series of ordeals: first by exasperation, then by penalties.
For 83 minutes, until Thomas Müller stole in behind Ashley Cole to apply his head to Ribéry's cross, it worked. And then, instead of folding in the face of such a calamity, Chelsea struck back with the sort of majestic blow that Drogba seems to reserve for such occasions. Before Müller struck and after Drogba had headed the equaliser, every minute without a goal for Bayern seemed like a victory for Chelsea. The tactic that proved so unexpectedly effective against Barcelona – "overcrowd the central defence, force the enemy wide, throw yourselves in the way of every cross and shot" – was the one selected for use once again as Roberto Di Matteo's players worked their way towards the ecstatic climax of an extraordinary period in their history.
Two and a half months ago, remember, this was a team heading for the knackers' yard. Then Di Matteo replaced André Villas-Boas, and everything changed. Before this game , Chelsea had played 20 under their Italian interim manager, with a record of won 13, drawn four, lost three. Facing opponents almost as formidable as the brilliant Catalan team they had beaten to reach the final, Di Matteo saw no reason to tinker with an approach that had restored to his players the feeling that they were the masters of their own destiny.
At times Bayern seemed to be enjoying an even greater percentage of possession than the 80% or thereabouts that had given Barcelona total territorial dominance of the two legs of the semi-final. Ribéry and Robben, bouncing off the unyielding armour-plate of the Chelsea defence, found the experience every bit as frustrating as had Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta. Was it pretty? Was it the sort of thing to expand football's audience? Was it the sort of thing Abramovich had in mind when he paid Ken Bates the first instalment on what would become a billion-pound investment? Di Matteo would be entitled to respond: who cares? Football is a contest of goals, not of aesthetics. We love it when the two elements are combined, but that is not the primary purpose of the exercise.
The banner customarily draped across Stamford Bridge's Matthew Harding stand – "JT CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEGEND" – was hung out along the top tier of the end housing the Chelsea fans . But with John Terry sitting in the stand alongside the club's other three suspended players, leadership had to come from elsewhere as their team-mates strove to make Abramovich's dream of European glory come true.
In a team including such relative youngsters as David Luiz, Mikel John Obi, Juan Mata and, of course, Ryan Bertrand, the obvious candidates were Frank Lampard and Drogba, representatives of the old guard whose distaste for Villas-Boas's methods led to the removal of the Portuguese coach in February and the promotion of his assistant, a man steeped in the club's atmosphere and trusted by the senior pros to restore them to their comfort zone. In this case, however, being in a comfort zone has not meant being granted a licence to take it easy.
Chelsea's trio of thirtysomethings were outstanding. Lampard set an example of vigilance and concentration to the younger men around him, Ashley Cole made countless blocks, and Drogba gave the evening its shape.
When he stepped up to apply the coup de grâce, it was impossible to forget that he had missed two crucial penalties for his country in the African Cup of Nations finals of 2006 and 2012. But this time there was no hesitation, no mistake, and suddenly Chelsea were in a blue heaven.
Tag : sports