Chelsea – best team in Europe?
Uefa and all their marketing and communications people do their best to try and portray the Uefa Champions League competition as the best football competition in the world.
Some European journalists go further and say that this is a true test of football prowess. I strongly disagree with these assertions.
The Fifa World Cup for me is still the truest test. The Uefa Champions League is a cup competition like any other and is subject to the same whims and winds as one might find in the Asian Champions League or the CAF Champions League. The major difference might be that the Uefa competition is richer and better run and has a wider TV audience.
The element of luck in football, as in life itself, can never be ignored. This is never more eloquently shown as in knock-out cup competitions like the Uefa Champions League. Chelsea, who are the champions Of Europe for the next 12 months have, for me, reversed the ill-luck they have had in the past six seasons but have gone further and emptied their bank balance of luck for the next six seasons on their way to winning in Munich.
I wrote in previous pieces that the London side needed an upturn in fortunes in this competition but I was never prepared for this ride. Bayern Munich deserved to lose on penalties. However, that is only because they deserved to be punished severely for their wastefulness in front of goal.
Gomez, who was so reliable all season, proved ineffective. One fantastic change of movement lost the otherwise competent Cahill but, with only the keeper to beat and less than 12 metres out, he managed to hit incredibly high and over the bar. That was a pattern that continued the entire match.
I know he scored his penalty at the Bernabeu against another of his former clubs Real Madrid but I do not think that Arjen Robben is Bayern’s designated penalty taker. Robben is that typical soloist who thinks the world of himself and that he should be the centre-piece of every action. He has the talent to match that train of thought. However, mentally, he has always been suspect and that was why he always fell out with Jose Mourinho when at Chelsea.
So for him to decide to take that penalty in extra time was a big call. Cech made a very good save and you could tell that finally the Bayern players believed they were not going to win.
Chelsea are not even close to being the best team in England. They finished in sixth position and 25 points behind the Champions Man City. So it seems incongruous that they can be called the best club side in Europe but they should be addressed as such because they have won the Champions League.
The senior players at Chelsea can deny it all they like but my firm belief is that they sabotaged Villas-Boas even if the young manager was trying to change too much too quickly. The bravery they decided to show in their victories over a grossly overrated Napoli and Benfica proved that, with their minds focused on the short-term, they could deliver.
Against Barcelona over both legs they defended doggedly, rode their luck and scored at key times during the contest. Any team that has a fit and focused Didier Drogba and the energy and dynamism of Ramirez is dangerous in a football match. Tottenham were badly set out by Redknapp in the FA Cup semifinal but were on top before Drogba pulled the rabbit out of the bag to give them the lead.
Just as Spurs were settling down to contest the match a ball that was nowhere near being over the line was judged to be a goal and the contest was effectively over. The Liverpool team that played in the last Premier League season was at best an average side and its league position confirmed it, YET they lost only one match out of four to Chelsea – the FA Cup final. It took an extraordinary save from Peter Cech to make sure.
Chelsea will need rebuilding. The likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda and John Terry have been shown up as not having the legs to carry on a pursuit of the League title and the Champions League. Frankly, these players are going to start going downhill from next season – Essien and Malouda are already there; Lampard is on the edge of that particular little precipice.
This win was not too dissimilar to how Forest got past Hamburg in ’80 with Peter Shilton having a stormer. The Liverpool team that was captained by Graeme Souness in ’84 came up against an excellent AS Roma side in the Stadio Olympico, their own stadium as Bayern were. Roma were star studded with Cerezo and Falcao in midfield alongside Nela, Righetti, Di Batolomei, Pruzzo, Conti and Grazziani; the Romans rightly fancied to win.
Souness, Hansen and Lawrenson organised a proper rear guard action to keep them out and won on penalties. The records show that Forest and Liverpool won the European Cup in ’80 and ’84. It will say nothing about how they played. The records will show the same thing about this Chelsea side.
Finally, on to Didier Drogba. I do not think European football has ever known a footballer like him. He was the proper man for the big occasion and I believe he has now gone down in history as the one of the club’s greatest ever players.
This is a man who has scored in all but one of the club’s finals. He is strong, powerful and quite balletic in such a way that belies his sheer brute force. His header that brought Chelsea level was his one and only half chance in the final but he made it count; as only Didier Drogba can do.
When he was standing over that final penalty kick even the most optimistic Bayern Munich fan knew the outcome. Three steps and coolly despatched, sending Neuer the wrong way. Chelsea Champions!