In what could prove to be the final match in the distinguished Chelsea career of club-stalwart Didier Drogba, the Ivorian striker coolly tucked away the penalty that cemented Chelsea’s place in history as the 2012 champions of Europe’s elite club competition.
Even reaching the final looked near impossible a mere few months ago as Chelsea battled turmoil on and off the pitch, slipping to sixth in the league (a position from which they did not recover) and sacking their recently appointed manager, Andre Villas-Boas, only half a year into his troubled reign.
With English teams faltering in the UEFA Champion’s League, Europe’s main stage, Chelsea appeared set to join Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United in not making it as far as the quarter-final stages of the elite competition. A gutsy comeback in their last 16 tie against Napoli, however, was to be the beginning of an incredible journey under new manager Roberto Di Matteo, who somehow galvanised a disgruntled group of ageing Chelsea stars.
With very real concerns hanging over the English Premier League’s status as the most competitive league in the world, Sunday morning’s victory went great lengths toward quelling fears that this mantle would soon be passed on.
But how much will this do to augment the standing of the top English Premier League sides?
Despite the UEFA Champion’s League being respected as the competition that showcases the best club football worldwide, Chelsea has been slammed by football ‘purists’ for playing an unattractive style of football.
After reaching the latter stages of the competition, Chelsea adopted an approach that favoured gritty defence and tactics designed to curb the influence of some of the world’s best players. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta were well held over two semi-final legs before Bayern Munich’s daunting three-pronged attack of Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery looked equally ineffectual against an undermanned but defiant Chelsea side.
While the brand of football exhibited by Chelsea is unlikely to win over a new legion of fans, it’s hard to imagine them winning any other way. Quite frankly, they won’t care in the slightest and nor should they.
As current Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho said in reference to the styles of Spanish, German and Italian football: “English football has a few things to learn from them in the same way they have a lot of things to learn from English football.”
Sunday morning’s victory reaffirmed something that has characterised the English game in recent years; an ability to negate the world’s best and when the right moment comes, to pounce on it.