Wunderbar Wembley date
I’m honoured to be part of SuperSport’s presentation team for this weekend’s Uefa Champions League Final from Wembley. It is, of course, one of those rare finals that features two clubs from the same country and I can’t help thinking back to the first one I covered in season 1999/2000.
Back then it wasn’t two German clubs doing battle but rather two Spanish sides, Real Madrid and Valencia, who scrapped in Paris for European football’s top prize. It was a rarity nonetheless to find a city invaded by two sets of fans who spoke the same language and, as with this weekend’s showpiece, that final also took place at a magnificent venue: the Stade de France.
As a contest, the final turned out to be something of an anti-climax. Vicente del Bosque’s Madrid, for whom Steve McManaman produced an inspired performance, comfortably beat a disappointing Valencia 3-0.
I worked with legendary commentator Martin Tyler on that game and I have been lucky enough this week to have spent some time with him again. Unlike that night in Paris 13 years ago, Martin is finding it far harder to predict who will emerge from this particular battle of compatriot clubs.
I’ll let you listen to his thoughts exclusively on our pre-Final programming but I will tell you that Martin is anticipating a truly epic contest between the two outstanding clubs in this season’s competition. I suspect I’ll be hearing something similar from my two matchday guests, both of whom have fond memories of the competition and of Wembley.
Ruud Gullit’s wonderful career was at its peak when he twice tasted European Cup success in 1989 and 1990 and he also enjoyed his only success as a manager when his Chelsea side comfortably beat Midddlesbrough back in 1997 at the old Wembley.
Speaking of which, our other guest this Saturday is a German who has had plenty of experience of crashing parties at England’s national stadium.
Dietmar Hamann famously scored the last-ever goal at the 'old' Wembley before its demolition, firing a long-range free-kick past David Seaman to seal a 1-0 win for Germany over England. I can’t wait to see how his memories of that and his time at Bayern Munich get him fired up for our on-screen work this weekend.
As for me, well obviously I would have loved there to have been a Barclays Premier League club involved in this contest which is part of the Football Association’s 150th anniversary celebrations, but I have to admit the two finalists are the sides that have wowed me most in European football this season.
Like every neutral, I have fallen for the kooky charm of Jurgen Klopp and I have been seduced by his lighting-quick, free-scoring men in yellow and black. I have to say I also had a soft spot for Hector Cuper and his unfashionable Valencia all those years ago. Yet, just as there was back in Paris in 2000, a giant of European football is involved in this final too. A juggernaut even.
Forget that Bayern responded to Dortmund’s double Bundesliga triumph by winning this season’s title in record fashion, ignore the financial dominance FC Hollywood has over Dortmund (a decade ago they loaned them two million euros – interest free – to help them stave off insolvency, and today they are luring Dortmund’s best players away with huge sums), try to put the whole Mario Gotze saga out of your minds. Instead, for me the factor that I find hard to overlook is Bayern’s extraordinary rear-guard performance this season.
They shattered Bundesliga defensive records en route to the title and astonishingly progressed to this final by beating Juventus and Barcelona in the quarter- and semifinals by an aggregate score of 11-0. Their 7-0 two-leg win over Barcelona will go down as one of the most stunning scorelines in European football history. There are shut-outs and there are mind-boggling shut-outs.
For all the pre-match talk about the wonderful attacking fair on show – and I am positively relishing the prospect of seeing Muller, Robben, Ribery, Reus, Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski on the same pitch – I think it is telling that seasoned observers of the game are similarly excited about watching Munich’s awesome centre-half Dante in action, not forgetting the likes of Gundogan, Martinez and Schweinsteiger in the more defensive midfield positions.
Maybe that’s why Martin Tyler is anticipating a technically-brilliant but tight final. Again, I won’t spoil things by saying who he thinks will be lifting the trophy come Saturday night but I tend to follow his reasoning when it comes to football.
So, even though every part of my football being is screaming “Lewandoski has scored 10 goals in this competition this season alone!” I am heading to Wembley in anticipation of a tighter contest than that which I witnessed in Paris all those years ago.
I could of course be wrong, and I kind of hope I am, but whatever happens in London on Saturday night, you are in for an absolute treat live on SuperSport. See you there!