"I don't believe it. Even if it is true, I still don't believe it." Thus did Bill Shankly greet the news that Glasgow Rangers had been knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Berwick. The teams are different, the prize is infinitely greater but the sense of astonishment is the same. "Football, bloody hell" doesn't quite do it justice.
Here the disparity was even greater than it had been when Sir Alex Ferguson uttered those words as Bayern Munich's colours were quietly removed from the European Cup. Thirty-five attempts on goal to nine; 20 corners to one. Chelsea beat the biggest team in Germany, on their own ground, on penalties. That alone might have been enough but they had also overcome Barcelona and recovered from a 3-1 deficit against Napoli. On Merseyside, they still talk of "the miracle of Istanbul". For Chelsea there have beenseveral.
Didier Drogba stood where Steven Gerrard had been in 2005; man of a match that was expected to be his last for his club. In Drogba, Bayern Munich had identified the only member of a Chelsea squad ruined by suspensions who could hurt them. Their manager, Jupp Heynckes, wary of his reputation for feigning injury, had dubbed him "an actor" but this was a moment for a Clint Eastwood or a John Wayne.
His equaliser was just the kind of goal Bayern had feared he might score; a muscular header against a defence missing Holger Badstuber. However, there were a bare two minutes remaining and Heynckes, seeking to protect his lead, had withdrawn his own goalscorer, Thomas Müller, in favour of a defender, Daniel van Buyten. It was a natural piece of insurance, perhaps the only time Bayern Munich had shown any inclination to defend.
As a tactic it came apart almost immediately. Most of this Chelsea team had the demons of the penalty shoot-out in the driving Moscow rain against Manchester United to overcome but Drogba admitted there were fresher thoughts flitting through his mind as he prepared to win the European Cup.
A few months before, his Ivory Coast side that included the Touré brothers and Salomon Kalou had appeared pre-destined to win the African Cup of Nations. In the final, they had pummelled Zambia, failed to break through and seen the tournament go to penalties. Drogba had missed, Ivory Coast had lost.
"I had it in my head to make up for what happened in Africa," he said. "But I wanted to make up for what Petr Cech had done. His saves had got us this far. I wanted to make up for all the times I have been here and seen us come so close."
When it came to naming the moment that had turned the season, Drogba mentioned Ashley Cole's clearance off the line in the intensity of the Stadio San Paolo, a contest in which Chelsea had been as battered as they were here. "Had it gone in we would have been 4-1 down to Napoli," he said. "We would never have recovered."
Cole played the game of his life in Munich. Away from the pitch, he has lived his life like a parody of a Premier League footballer but he is one of the finest defenders of the modern age and here, when it absolutely mattered, he proved it.
In front of him was young Ryan Bertrand, who would barely have rated a mention in Bayern's preparations. Roberto Di Matteo remarked afterwards that as a manager he was by nature conservative. "I am not one who likes to gamble," he said. "But we had very limited options." Two men, one a youth team product, one a free transfer, albeit on enormous wages, were those who helped turn the tide.
Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, had spent close to £60m hiring and firing managers. He had got through Ranieri, Mourinho, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti and Villas-Boas. He had demanded the very best, most expensive talent and now the prize he craved most had been brought to him by someone with the title of "interim manager".
It was perhaps Heynckes who best identified what Di Matteo had done differently. He said he had made his players feel wanted. Tony Benn is not much of a football man. His diary entry for 30 July 1966 does not mention the World Cup final but he remarked that "when the best leader's work is done, people turn round and say: 'We did it ourselves'." Frank Lampard and his team did it themselves.
Di Matteo refused absolutely to discuss his future beyond a deep desire for a holiday. Heynckes had been sacked as manager of Real Madrid days after taking them to the European Cup, something he dismisses now with a shrug of the shoulders and a remark that "this is what they do". It was something Di Matteo would understand. For a Chelsea manager, injustice comes as standard.
The men in the red shirts who lay on the pitch after Drogba's penalty had found its mark will have felt betrayed by fate. In the days that followed, they would replay all the moments of their "Finale Dahoam". All the chances, all the squandered opportunities would flood back.
Arjen Robben's shot would always be deflected on to the bar. His penalty would always be trapped under Cech's body. That it was conceded by a witlessly stupid challenge by Drogba would be for ever forgotten. So would Franck Ribéry's disallowed goal. Müller's header that found the gap between the tips of Cech's gloves and the intersection of crossbar and post seemed to have guaranteed everything but brought a lead that lasted five minutes.
When Robben went up to take his penalty, Bastian Schweinsteiger, a man happiest in the mountains on his skis and whose ice-cold penalty in Madrid had seemed to seal Bayern Munich's destiny, could not bear to watch. He was exhausted, his nerves were frayed and soon they would snap completely.
James Lawton, page 6
Scorers: Bayern Munich Müller 83. Chelsea Drogba 88.
Substitutes: Bayern Munich Van Buyten (Müller, 86), Olic (Ribéry, 97). Chelsea Malouda (Bertrand, 73), Torres (Kalou, 84). Booked: Bayern Munich Schweinsteiger. Chelsea Cole, Luiz, Drogba, Torres.
Man of the match Drogba. Match rating 7/10. Possession: Bayern Munich 55% Chelsea 45%.
Attempts on target: Bayern Munich 21 Chelsea 6. Referee P Proença (Por). Att 69,901.
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