Talking to Sky Sports in the immediate aftermath of Chelsea's historic conquest of Barcelona, Branislav Ivanovic was dazed, thrilled, drained and jubilant. Then reporter Geoff Shreeves, employing perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm, asked if he was aware that his yellow card was his third of the tournament. In other words, he will be suspended for the Champions League final in Munich on 19 May.
It was, of course, strangely compulsive television. Here was a player drained by a performance of such concentration, application, bravery and – in fact – discipline that he was entitled to a moment of sheer elation. Instead there was personal despair. No wonder Ivanovic's face glazed over.
The remarkable thing, though, was that he had not known his fate. The on-pitch reactions of Raul Meireles and Ramires, who also received their third bookings, showed they knew that they were one card away from elimination. John Terry certainly understood the implications when he was sent off.
But Ivanovic was unaware. Perhaps he was too focused on his trip to the home of the European champions, perhaps he thought he had only been booked once, or that the threshold was four, or perhaps the 21st century elite footballer is too cocooned to follow these things in too much detail.
While Ivanovic is still upset, he acknowledged how pleased he was that his team-mates were there. "Of course, you have to be disappointed to not play the final," he said, speaking at length for the first time since Chelsea's 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp. "But if somebody tell me before the game 'you're going to pass [qualify] to the final but you won't play', I would do this."
He was supportive of caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo's decision not to tell him that he was one yellow card away. Ivanovic acknowledged that in such an intense occasion, no errant thought about a player's disciplinary record could intrude on the football. "They didn't want to disturb people, to put more pressure on you by thinking about the yellow," Ivanovic said. "Nobody told me, and I didn't even think about my yellow. And at the end of the day we passed [qualified], and this for us was great. We have to look forward and we have to be honest and I think everyone of us do everything to pass, and don't care about yellow cards or something like that."
Knowing a next booking would be so costly, Ivanovic wondered, might inhibit someone from playing as they ought to. "I think if you said to the player before the game, the player would not play with the same thinking," he said. "Inside you will be thinking about 'maybe I don't go too aggressive', or thinking about this to protect yourself. If one guy left another guy to not get a yellow, and that guy scored; in football you cannot think in this way."
Meireles will also miss the final, after stopping a late Barcelona attack. "During the game when you have to be in that position you do not have a choice," Ivanovic said. "Because it's a counter-attack, you cannot leave, it's difficult. This is a tactical foul." Clearly for Ivanovic, greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his participation in a Champions' League final for his team-mates.
While he will not play in Munich, or against Queens Park Rangers today in the Premier League, the Serb will play the FA Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley in six days. A cup final does not require context to be meaningful, but it will mean even more to Ivanovic given his European ban. "Even if I'm not missing the Champions' League final, the FA Cup is special," he said. "And everybody knows how special it is in England, with the history, with the stadium."
For Chelsea to be in two finals next month is remarkable, given the situation when Di Matteo took over only eight weeks ago. As one of the senior players who has produced so much in these stirring two months, it is no surprise how much he enjoys playing under the caretakermanager. "He gave us a bit more confidence," Ivanovic said, "and after that he is doing great and builds on the basics. And at the moment everything looks perfect and beautiful, but we have to finish the job."
Di Matteo is in tune with the senior players, having been one at Chelsea up to 2002 , and is flexible in his tactics, in a way that the ideological Andre Villas-Boas was not. "He doesn't try to put the team on one strategy, and all the players have to be on this," Ivanovic explained. "He does the opposite: If the players have this quality, he tries to show this quality. And it's great for us."
"He feels football and he understands everything," Ivanovic continued, "he knows what's going to happen, he knows when he has to be strong in the dressing room, when he has to put us quiet, and to be more focused: everything about football."
Under Di Matteo, the old formulae are working as well as ever. "My team-mates feel very strong," he said. "I think we can have three or four years more, everybody in the same level, in the same attitude." He may yet play in a Champions League final.
Chelsea v QPR is live on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
Where the Cup will be won and lost: Lampard versus Gerrard could be the key
Next Saturday Liverpool and Chelsea meet in the FA Cup final for the first time. Here Kevin Keegan tells Steve Tongue what might make the difference
Can Carroll and Suarez get the goals Liverpool need?
It's certainly a partnership that's growing. Don't forget Andy Carroll by Premier League standards is still very, very young and inexperienced. Suarez has more experience but he's new to England so it's probably no surprise they didn't immediately hit it off and sometimes looked like they were playing individually, doing their own thing. They've not had much luck in some of those poor results at Anfield, where the record is abysmal by Liverpool standards. It's disappointing when all these chances don't go in but it would be more worrying if they weren't creating chances.
Will Chelsea be handicapped by their fixture congestion?
We had the same thing at Liverpool, especially in my last season in 1977 when we'd won the League, and had the Cup final on the Saturday and the European Cup final on the Wednesday. In those days we just got on with it, even though we had smaller squads, not even 20 players. People talk so much about fixture congestion these days, it can put ideas in players' and managers' minds. When you're doing well and you go out knowing you've got the armoury to beat the opposition, the games can't come quickly enough. It's when things aren't going well that the manager and players want more time between games.
Do Liverpool still rely too much on Steven Gerrard?
If you've got to rely on someone, it might as well be Gerrard. He was injured early on, which you have to factor into where they are this season. I just think he deserves to be in a side that's challenging and if we're honest they're still a bit short, despite spending £110m on five players. Most of us were looking at it towards the end of the Rafa Benitez era and thinking "they're going backwards here". They're still a work in progress and I think Kenny [Dalglish] knows that, the owners know it and the fans certainly know it. They've missed Lucas Leiva in midfield, who most fans didn't rate in his first year and then became player of the year last season. So maybe people like Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, who I thought would be good signings but who have struggled, can take some inspiration from him.
Will the experience of the two managers be a factor?
It's interesting the similar situation they were in, Kenny in being there [as club ambassador] with Roy Hodgson and Roberto Di Matteo under Andre Villas-Boas. I had the same thing at Fulham when I was there as chief operating officer with Ray Wilkins as the manager. You don't get involved unless you're asked but you have your own thoughts and then you get a chance to put your ideas into practice, so both of them were able to come in and hit the ground running. But the main thing is the experience in your team, the players you've got, and on that score Chelsea have probably got a slight edge because they've played in more big games over the last three or four years.
Have Chelsea's old guard proved their worth?
This manager has realised what the key is to the Chelsea team. By all means get rid of players if they're no longer capable of doing it but don't get rid of them just because their birth certificate says they're 33 or 34. It's pretty simple management really: change it gradually. If Frank Lampard and John Terry are coming to the end then fine, but they really haven't reached their sell-by date. We had Ian Callaghan at Liverpool who I was supposed to be replacing. He went on and on to play 800-odd games and play for England again.
What one factor could decide the final?
I would say whichever team's big players turn up. Gerrard and Suarez for instance. They're the two that have got to play well for Liverpool to win. I always like watching Lampard and Gerrard playing against each other and it will be really interesting to see who gets the upper hand, which could really turn the game.
Kevin Keegan will be part of ESPN's all-day FA Cup final coverage on Saturday
'German Messi' for Chelsea
Chelsea are to sign Werder Bremen's German international midfielder Marko Marin, the London club announced yesterday. Dubbed "the German Messi", the Serbia-born 23-year-old has scored eight times in 83 matches for Bremen, having joined them from Borussia Mönchengladbach for €8.5million in 2009.
"I had a really good time with Werder together with many great guys here," Marin said before Bremen's Bundesliga match with Wolfsburg yesterday, "but I am looking forward to the challenge of playing in the Premier League with such an established club," he said.
Marin made his Germany debut in 2008 and has subsequently won 16 caps, scoring once for his country. He was part of their 2010 World Cup squad, but has spent much of this season on the sidelines due to injury and consequently is not certain of a place in Joachim Löw's squad for this summer's European Championship. But he has passed a Chelsea medical, agreed personal terms and will sign in the next few weeks, according to his present club.Reuse content