I somehow missed this article, by Giles Smith, published on 26th May.
“Somewhere in the Allianz Arena last Saturday, there was perhaps a Chelsea fan who saw it all coming.
Someone, maybe, who was never in a state of nervous breakdown, nor even slightly on edge, at any stage in the evening because they knew that none of that torrent of clear Bayern Munich chances was going to end up being converted.
A Chelsea fan, quite possibly, who realised, perfectly calmly, when Bayern finally scored after 83 minutes, that it would be OK, because Didier Drogba would equalize after 88 minutes, with as stonking a header as he has ever produced, in eight years of stonking headers, and from our first and only corner of the game.
Someone who maybe wasn’t especially concerned when Bayern were awarded a penalty kick a couple of minutes into injury time because they understood in advance that the completely extraordinary Petr Cech would save it.
A person who perhaps thought nothing of it when brave Juan Mata, by then barely capable of walking, missed the first penalty of the shoot-out because they were well aware that a) four of our other players in succession would score, and b) Cech would go the right way every time and eventually be rewarded for his anticipation twice.
A person entirely unfazed by things like the still pungent memory of events in Moscow, or of our club’s terrifying history of colossal misfortune in this competition, or of the reputation of Germans in penalty shoot-outs.
Someone who simply nodded warmly as Drogba walked towards the wall of whistling at the Munich end because it was readily apparent that Drog would stroke the ball nervelessly into the bottom left-hand corner and win the Champions League.
Maybe there was someone like that. But I haven’t met them. And it certainly wasn’t me.
Which was the blissful magic of it, wasn’t it? The sheer unlikelihood of the victory at so many points, the crazy number of separate, seemingly pivotal moments at which you had to find yourself thinking, ‘This can’t possibly end well.’
Only, after all that, for it to end well.
We thought we had seen this team produce the away performance to end all away performances in the Nou Camp. But we hadn’t. That, we now see, was merely the away performance to end Barcelona. This team produced the away performance to end all away performances in Munich.
And it certainly was an away performance. Those of us privileged enough to be in the ground were under no illusion about that. Our Bavarian hosts were not shy about milking their territorial advantage. The fact that the final wasn’t taking place on neutral territory could easily have been something the Bayern felt mildly embarrassed about, or even a touch reluctant to draw attention to. But no. They found a way to get over that reluctance.
First there was that extraordinary co-ordinated display of signage at the Bayern end as the players emerged – a veritable Busby Berkeley routine in flags and hand-held plastic squares, with that giant image of the trophy unfurling from the gods, and the legend appearing along the bottom: ‘Our city, our stadium, our cup.’
Then there was the traditionally thunderous and ecstatic call-and-response PA treatment of the Bayern goal, which seemed to go on for about four minutes – almost, indeed, until Drogs’ equalizer which, one could hardly fail to notice, received a much more muted public announcement. (No ‘Danke!’ and no ‘Bitte!’ for the Drog, alas.)
Oh, and that bloke who was given the honour of carrying out the trophy before the match was Paul Breitner. If he didn’t mean anything to you, let me inform you that he is a retired West Germany international who began and ended his professional career with Bayern, won the league seven times with them, and made 255 appearances for the club. You can see without too much difficulty which set of supporters was meant to get more excited at the sight of him.
And then, of course, as if home advantage on its own were not advantage enough, the toss of the coin took the penalty shoot-out down to the Bayern end, where our hosts were at liberty to do their utmost to make it as uncomfortable an experience for their guests as possible.
All in all, we didn’t seem to be gathered to celebrate the final exchanges in Europe’s top club competition in as close to a spirit of equality as could be mustered in the slightly awkward circumstances. We seemed to be at a Bayern Munich open day.
Yet this, too, of course, eventually became another aspect of the night’s greatness – the way the experience seemed to be about finding all the insuperable obstacles that were available, piling them up in the middle of the pitch, and then determinedly rising above them. Their city and their stadium, yes – but, as it turned out, our cup.
It’s also something to point out to anyone who tries to stand us in line with those English clubs who, on surprisingly numerous occasions, have won Europe’s top prize without having been ahead in the regulation period. At 90 minutes, we were, in fact, winning – on away goals. And then, just to be sure, we won it again on penalties. Heroic. Utterly heroic.
It’s sad, of course, about Didier Drogba, but the best things must end – and what an end. One of those ends that makes the coming to an end easier to handle. It’s given to very few players to depart a club on a perfect closing note, but I doubt we will hear a better one played, ever. One stroke of the ball, one European Cup: this is a very good way to say good night and then go and get your coat.
Now, if you were being picky, you could argue that the ultimate exit via the cloakroom would have involved Drog burying that free kick outside the penalty area at the end of the 90 minutes. This, too, as it happened, would have been the last kick of the match. And it would have done exactly the same job, slightly more economically. Plus there’s a good chance it would have been a flamboyantly picture-book goal, given the distance.
And, obviously, we’ll never know exactly what that would have felt like. But I would hazard that what we did get to feel, in the end, was more intense. By the time Drog set off from the centre circle for his date with Manuel Neuer, the tale of the match had expanded by half an hour and a further 10 penalty kicks. One of those penalty kicks had seen David Luiz take a run-up which began just over the halfway line, striking fear into our hearts. Surely that ball was going to come down in Italy. (No, actually. It was a brilliant penalty.) All in all, the drama had been ratcheted to the point where it was practically unbearable, and to the point where many of us had started to wonder whether we were actually hallucinating. The pressure was greater, and, accordingly, the release from the pressure, for all concerned, that much more immense. From that point of view, in sober retrospect, I would take a deciding penalty in a shoot-out over a net-bursting free kick as a farewell wave every time.
What a player Drogba has been for us. What a sincere pang it produces to realize that he won’t be our player any longer. Yet this really was the perfect finish.”