By Shane Thomas
There is a sporting aphorism favoured by football journalists, pundits, commentators and bloggers in moments of incredulity. "You couldn't script this!" I remember the filmmaker, Spike Lee expressing similar sentiments before the final game of the epic series of matches between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees back in 2004 (for which I highly recommend you watch the 30 for 30 documentary, "Four Days in October").
However, how else can one explain the 2012 Champions League final, other than as a story that was already written. All the major players had to do was play their parts. Not often, but sometimes, sport follows the Shakespeare maxim of, "All the world's a stage." Along the lines of PSV Eindhoven in 1988, Red Star Belgrade in 1990, and Liverpool in 2005, Chelsea in 2012 has entered the pantheon of storybook victories in club football's most prestigious competition.
The story of Chelsea brought to mind the current popular TV series, "The Walking Dead." Two seasons ago, Sir Alex Ferguson denounced Chelsea as a team that was too old to succeed at the top level, and even though he was made to eat on his words as the West Londonders went on to do the double that season, it looked as if his appraisal was correct, but mistimed by a couple of years. Andre Villas-Boas was brought in to Stamford Bridge to oversee a new Chelsea side, one unshackled from the Jose Mourinho era.
It turned out to be a disaster, as Chelsea lurched throughout the league campaign, and after a comprehensive 3-1 defeat to Napoli in the San Paolo Stadium, it looked as if the last rites on this era of Chelsea Football Club had been read. It seemed apposite that a team playing with youthful verve and pace would be the ones to finish off a Chelsea squad that looked tired, needing to be put out of its misery. The coffin was shut, the nails were hammered into the lid. Chelsea was done.
And then, over the season's final few months, Chelsea rose, much like zombies. And time and again, every time they were knocked out, they got up and plodded on, not with alacrity or rapier-like menace, just with a ponderous, but incessant force of will. They became the movie monster that you couldn't kill:
- In the 2nd leg against Napoli at Stamford Bridge, after leading 2-0, a superb Gokhan Inler volley wrestled the initiative back the Italian side's way, putting them ahead in the tie, only for Chelsea to re-double their efforts and score a third through John Terry, and a decisive fourth in extra-time from Branislav Ivanovic.
- After after coming under severe pressure in the 2nd leg of their quarter-final against Benfica, with the Portugese side needing one more goal to progress, Chelsea broke away late on and snatched victory with a late Raul Meireles strike.
- Then... Barcelona. The Catalans missed a myriad of chances in the 1st leg, hitting the frame of the goal twice. The following week in the Camp Nou saw Chelsea go down to men, as Terry was sent-off. Barca were two goals to the good, with Sergio Busquets & Andres Iniesta giving the home team the edge. Were Chelsea beaten? Ramires scored a sumptuous chip against the run of play, and with the lead on away goals, they produced an astonishing defensive rearguard, as Barcelona couldn't find a third goal. All this despite Lionel Messi hitting the post, missing a penalty, and no less than four Chelsea players forced to operate in an unfamiliar positions.
- All this was incredible enough, but to spend most of the 120 minutes in the Allianz Arena defending against a Bayern Munich team, playing in the Germans own stadium, with both of the Chelsea centre-halves nursing troublesome hamstrings, and finally conceding a goal with seven minutes of the match remaining, they still wouldn't die.
With two minutes to go, Chelsea won their first corner of the contest, and Didier Drogba equalised with a blistering header. To extra-time we went, and Bayern won a penalty. Former Chelsea man Arjen Robben stepped up to win the match, but Petr Cech guessed right and saved the spot-kick. They still wouldn't die.
We went to a penalty shoot-out, and after Juan Mata's effort was saved by Manuel Neuer, the Bavarians led 3-1. But Cech denied both Ivica Olic & Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Drogba - with probably his last kick as a Chelsea player - fired into the bottom corner to give Chelsea their first ever European Cup.
They wouldn't die. The zombies ploughed on through all their competition until there was nothing left. They kept going, and kept going, and kept going. As if under some kind of supernatural spell, they pressed on. Chelsea may not have outplayed their opposition, but they outlasted them. It happened this way because it had to happen this way. It was written.
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