How Didier can storm the Bridge

Champions' League final: Mourinho, Deschamps, Morientes, Deco, Giuly - they can't all go to Chelsea
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The Independent Football

How about this for the latest far-fetched reality TV programme: take two up-and-coming managers, pit them face to face in a big match - say the Champions' League final - and then sit back and watch as the drama unfolds. Oh, and the prize? The keys to the manager's office at Stamford Bridge.

How about this for the latest far-fetched reality TV programme: take two up-and-coming managers, pit them face to face in a big match - say the Champions' League final - and then sit back and watch as the drama unfolds. Oh, and the prize? The keys to the manager's office at Stamford Bridge.

Roman Abramovich's hefty summer investment was not quite enough to take Chelsea to the promised land of the Arena AufSchalke, but that has not stopped the Russian from gate-crashing Monaco and Porto's joint party. All the pre-match talk should be about the two young teams battling it out for the highest accolade in European football. Instead, everyone is trying to guess which of the two young coaches will replace Chelsea's future former manager Claudio Ranieri for the richest position in the game.

Jose Mourinho of Porto remains the favourite but, should Didier Deschamps inspire Monaco to victory, the Frenchman could well pip the Portuguese to the post. Understandably, neither men willdiscuss the rumours, but both know that Wednesday night is the final part of their job interview. A case of winner takes all if ever there was one.

The players, too, will be hoping to impress the Chelsea scouts on Wednesday. Fernando Morientes, who has been on a season-long loan with Monaco from Real Madrid, could complete his £14m switch to Stamford Bridge next week. Only a late bid from Arsenal would stop that move going through. And Porto's artful playmaker Deco is another possible target.

However, competition will be fiercest for Ludovic Giuly, the little midfield general who has come to epitomise Deschamps' side. Chelsea are just one of five or six European superpowers looking to recruit the Monaco captain. "I am flattered by the interest," admits the Frenchman, who has just one year left on his contract and will, therefore, almost certainly be sold by the cash-strapped club. "But I owe it to everyone to stay focused on the biggest game in the history of Monaco, not to mention of my career."

Chelsea should be making Giuly their No 1 target. For all their sound defending and solid midfield play, the London club have missed that all-important spark in the final third. Giuly would offer them the je ne sais quoi they so obviously lacked last season. Say it quietly, but Giuly could even be just the man to replace Chelsea's finest ever creator, Gianfranco Zola. He certainly has all the right credentials. Short, quick and blessed with excellent technique and vision, Giuly is a carbon copy of the Sardinian magician. And at only 27, he is also nearly two years younger than Zola was when he signed for Chelsea from Parma in 1996.

"Just being mentioned alongside someone like Zola is unbelievable," said Giuly, who will be showcasing his talents at Euro 2004 this summer. "He was a real hero of mine and a player any footballer would look up to. But I repeat, my responsibility is to do my best for Monaco. We are a very close-knit team and we want to stay together. If the club's owners have other ideas, then fine, I will play elsewhere, but that is their decision."

The run to the Champions' League final has helped, but with debts nearing £40m, Monaco may not have much choice but to sell their best players. "Whatever happens," said Giuly, who first made his name under the tutelage of Jean Tigana at Lyon before moving to Monte Carlo in 1998, "I will always look back on this year with great fondness. Ten months ago, we thought we might be thrown out of the French First Division for financial irregularities and today we are in the Champions' League final. That's incredible and, really, we have no right to be here at all." So are Porto favourites to leave Gelsenkirchen victorious? "Without question," Giuly said. "They have a lot more experience than us. After all, this is their second final in a row. They are a big team. But we'll have a go; we always do. We have beaten Real Madrid and Chelsea in the last two rounds so we have no reason to fear anyone now."

The off-field battle will be just as fascinating. Deschamps versus Mourinho: the former player who has won it all versus the academic who only ever represented his home town of Setubal; the man who lifted the Champions' League for two different clubs versus the most successful Portuguese club manager of the last 20 years; the coach who learned his craft while playing alongside some of the world's best players versus the the coach who absorbed everything he was taught when working as assistant manager to Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal.

Both men have much in common. They are young (Deschamps is 35, Mourinho 41; the average age for a winning Champions' League manager is 51), encourage free-flowing football, and have great belief in their own abilities. "A Champions' League final is a wonderful moment," said former Chelsea midfielder Deschamps, "especially for a bunch of guys who in the main had never tasted this competition before. I'm really proud of my team."

Mourinho has been emphasising the players' achievements while offering gentle reminders that he has been the architect behind the success. "It will be a final full of happiness," he said. "My players deserve a lot of credit, because it is not often that a team win back-to-back Portuguese titles, back-to-back Portuguese Cups and also have the opportunity of winning back-to-back European trophies [Porto would make history if they lifted the Champions' League 12 months after the Uefa Cup]. Either way, we have marked European football."

And Abramovich. No matter that Chelsea did not make it to the season's showpiece, the ambitious billionaire will still get his own way and finish the campaign with at least one Champions' League winner.