Republic of Ireland vs England: Ryan Bertrand still in disbelief at bow in Champions League final

Bertrand made his Champions League debut in the final of 2012

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The Independent Football

When England’s footballers sit down to watch the Champions League final tonight, one member of Roy Hodgson’s squad could be forgiven for letting his mind wander back to the last time the season-ending showpiece was staged in Germany – and pinching himself once more.

For Ryan Bertrand, the events of 19 May 2012 at Munich’s Allianz Arena are still sinking in, three years after he was thrown in at the deep end for his very first Champions League appearance in the biggest match of all. “I become more in awe of that whole achievement the further away it gets,” admits Bertrand, the Southampton left-back, who was a surprise selection in Roberto Di Matteo’s starting XI for Chelsea’s final triumph over Bayern Munich. “At the time it went by so quickly and you are aware it’s the biggest club competition but the further you get away from it, the more respect you have for it when you start to realise the greats and the teams that have won it.”

For Bertrand, then 22, it was the highlight of a nine-year Chelsea career punctuated by seven loan moves, and he let the memories resurface at St George’s Park this week as he prepared for a possible first England start against the Republic of Ireland tomorrow.

“Just before the end of the season, me and Ash [Ashley Cole] started to play [together] in training and the last game against Blackburn I played in front of him,” he says, remembering the lead-up to a night spent helping Cole stifle the threat of Franck Ribery and Philipp Lahm. “It was one of those things where you think, ‘He could… but surely he’s not going to!”

As it happened, Di Matteo did – and Bertrand played 73 minutes in a left-midfield role before a long night of celebration ended with Didier Drogba flinging him into a hotel swimming pool. “We were still in our suits and the sun was coming up. Gaz [Gary Cahill] got thrown in first. I kind of saw it coming but was too late.”

Ryan Bertrand (right) during the 2012 Champions League final

It is telling to hear his observation that that “surreal” night was “good to see for the players who had been together so long”, as for the more peripheral Bertrand every game at Chelsea felt, by his own admission, “like having an audition”.

By contrast, his success at Southampton this term – where his efforts earned him a place in the PFA’s Premier League team of the year alongside six Chelsea players – has been a product of feeling settled at long last. Munich might have bolstered his self-belief – “you’ve been in the toughest arena and managed to do well” – but there is no substitute, it seems, for a young footballer having a proper home.

He says: “Every summer you would come back [and ask] ‘am I going, am I staying?’. This has been about consistency, the move to Southampton – to get that consistency and really start to raise the levels of my game. At Southampton I really feel part of it. I really feel like a footballer. When the team gets a win and you are playing consistently, you feel good about it. You get a day off the next day and you feel like you deserved a day off.

“I feel like I’ve got to know myself more as a player. Things come more naturally, rather than being in out, in out. You get to that stage where you know your game and you can add your stamp in games and be really aggressive in what you want to do and perhaps try new things,” continues Bertrand who has already made more Premier League outings for Southampton – 34 – than he did in all his time at Stamford Bridge.

It has helped too playing under a manager with the “aura” and humility” of Ronald Koeman, though he insists he bears no grudge to Jose Mourinho, the man who ended his Chelsea stay. In the season after Munich, Bertrand made 26 starts under Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez – not to mention his England debut – but Mourinho selected him just three times before sending him on loan to Aston Villa, then Southampton, where he made a permanent move this February.

“There are no grudges,” says the 25-year-old, in reflective mood. “Football is football. Business is business. We’re in a world where the two mix very often so I’d never hold a grudge against anybody.

“That’s not really in my mind to go out and prove people wrong. I’ve no grudges, no chip on my shoulder about showing him, ‘Look, I’m better than him’, it was just about me. That was the whole decision.


“For me it wasn’t a case of ‘my career didn’t go right, I’m not playing for Chelsea’. I know personally I should still be there and I should still be playing but it is no drama. That is football and these things happen. I am fantastically happy at Southampton, playing week in week out and developing as a footballer and really enjoying life.”

As for England, the absence of the injured Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw means Bertrand may start in Dublin, having made his first England appearance in 30 months as a substitute against Italy in March. Yet he is taking nothing for granted about his international prospects. “We have one of the strongest positions now at left back, with a good four, five or six contenders for the spot, which can only be good for the country. Our job is to play consistently and to a high level and whoever the manager sees as being up to the task then so be it.” Spoken like a man well accustomed to waiting and biding his time for an opportunity.