Moments after Frank Lampard finally lifted the prize that Roman Abramovich has obsessed about above all others, the Chelsea owner strode away from the Allianz Arena podium like a man on another mission.
He hurried past the assembled media, refusing to even admit he was happy. He refused, in fact, to say a thing.
Finally, by the time he got to the Chelsea dressing-room — and by the time the jubilant players made their way back — he spoke.
What Abramovich said, however, was seemingly only for those who heard it. John Terry wouldn’t reveal. Frank Lampard wouldn’t reveal.
And, from his boss’s words to whether he will even have a job next week, Roberto Di Matteo was giving nothing away.
But that was only in keeping with the 2012 Champions League final as a whole and his team’s run towards it.
Of course, the minimalist, defensive style of Chelsea’s victory was not exactly in the manner that Abramovich imagined when he decided to buy the club after being dazzled by a Real Madrid master-class at Old Trafford.
In many ways, however, this was a more appropriate win.
First, it was fired — and secured — by the player who arguably defines the Abramovich era more than any other. Unlike both Lampard and Terry, Didier Drogba was bought for huge money, was one of the first to come and — for the moment — is one of the last of those initial signings to remain. The striker refused to be drawn on whether his emphatic winning penalty was his last kick for the club but did, apparently, make an emotional speech in the dressing-room.
That it came to that kick was also because of the kind of drama and occasional chaos that has typified Chelsea’s history in this competition and created such an obsession. All of the club’s keynote moments — from missed penalties to dubious penalties to devastating last-minute equalisers — were repeated on Saturday in reverse. Ultimately, Drogba got to take the kick he never could in Moscow.
Finally, the entire victory was built on the element that has been almost as important to Chelsea’s last decade of success as Abramovich’s wealth: the durable defensive base that Jose Mourinho put in place.
Immediately after the final, there were already questions about the exact ‘morality’ of Chelsea’s win and whether the success of such a defensive system from such an elite club was good for the game.
“I think the supporters are happy,” Di Matteo argued. “You have to try and get the best out of what you have. That’s what we did.”
To a certain extent, he’s right. It may not have been the purest way to win. But, given the circumstances and given the time available, it was the only way Di Matteo was going to win the Champions League this season. With the aging team he inherited from Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo had little choice but to revert to the framework the side’s core knew best.
This was something Lampard also touched on as he defended the team’s approach, “We weren’t playing good football three months ago. We weren’t at a good level. And, to become organised, Robbie’s got to take a lot of credit... he’s built confidence and spirit in the group.”
Lampard also praised the manager’s general demeanour in a statement in which the slightest criticism of Terry’s behaviour could be construed.
“There’s a humility about him, the way he even picked up the cup. He’s been really, really impressive to me.”
Such a description, of course, is difficult to apply to the game itself. It certainly wasn’t a vintage final. Indeed, in terms of general play if not drama, it went exactly as expected: Bayern’s proactive control against Chelsea’s attempts to contain and counter. Given that, many will point to the pity that the team that actually tried to win the game didn’t do so.
But, in truth, Bayern Munich wouldn’t have been vintage champions themselves.
For one, there was their attitude. All through the build-up and many stages of the game itself, there seemed an unsavoury assumption the home team would win. That culminated in the Basler 1999-style moment when Thomas Muller was brought off for Daniel Van Buyten to receive the acclaim of scoring the expected winning goal.
When things went against Bayern, however, their attitude was the exact opposite and just as extreme. As soon as Mario Gomez failed to score the first of many chances, there was an angst creeping into their play. By the time Muller volleyed wide shortly before half-time, their body language betrayed genuine anxiety. They were snatching at chances and trying to force things. The pressure had got to them. And it contributed to a situation where they only scored once from a massive 35 efforts on goal.
By contrast, Chelsea only won one corner. They scored from it.
That illustrated a wasteful front and a soft centre in a hugely inconsistent and incomplete Bayern.
It shouldn’t be forgotten either that, for long stretches, these teams looked exactly what they are: effective also-rans in their domestic league. Chelsea’s otherwise impressive defence still allowed too many chances; Bayern missed them. As a result, the sixth-placed English side are somewhere around Liverpool 2005 in the competition’s pantheon; nowhere near the level of the last few years.
That, however, is knock-out football. Its nuances create such situations; not to mention one where a club from a country famous for scoring penalties let a player from a country infamous for missing them hit the key kick.
Many Chelsea players cited Arjen Robben’s miss as the point they truly believed.
Ultimately, too, they found the formula to properly build on that belief.
It may not have been pure. It certainly does not mean they are the best on the continent. But, in the end, Di Matteo’s minimalism reaped maximum reward.
Abramovich, meanwhile, enjoyed the ultimate return on his investment.
How they matched up: Miguel Delaney rates the players
Manuel Neuer 7
Didn’t have much to do throughout and, as a result, may have been caught slightly off guard for Didier Drogba’s equaliser. Did his part for the penalties, though, including nonchalantly scoring one.
Philipp Lahm 7
As ever, hugely assured in defence and that was all the more important given its patched-together make-up. Lahm made a number of key interceptions while also offering extra angles in attack.
Jerome Boateng 5
Played out of position and was forced into a number of fouls that allowed Chelsea dangerous free-kicks. He also lost Drogba for the equaliser.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk 6
Normally a defensive midfielder and, as such, not as culpable as Boateng even if he was occasionally wasteful in possession.
Diego Contento 7
Mostly freed of defensive duties and won most of his duels in something of a surprise start. He dovetailed quite well with Franck Ribery, too, as he offered more than a few dangerous crosses from the left.
Bastien Schweinsteiger 8
The missed penalty shouldn’t be seen as a failure but as a sign of just how fatigued he was after a ferocious performance. He didn’t look mentally fit enough to take it having covered so much ground.
Toni Kroos 7
Another who was forced to adjust his position due to Bayern’s suspensions. Pulled back to aid Schweinsteiger in the absence of Luis Gustavo, he wasn’t allowed be at his creative best but still assisted Muller’s goal.
Franck Ribery 6
Despite some early promise and some true moments of quality, never really imposed himself.
Thomas Muller 6
Scored Bayern’s only goal but had been the next most culpable after Gomez in missing so many chances. Could have had two in the first half.
Arjen Robben 7
The most high-quality aspect of the night was Robben’s battle with Cole. Although the full-back constantly shuffled him away from danger, Robben was still impressive. But his performance withered altogether after the penalty miss.
Mario Gomez 4
A continuation of his wasteful performance in the semi-final against Real Madrid. How can a club like Bayern continue to tolerate a forward who squanders so many chances?
Daniel Van Buyten 5
A somewhat impossible position as his very late substitution ceded initiative.
Ivica Olic 5
Not quite the bustling presence he was two years ago and missed Bayern’s first momentum-shifting penalty (the fourth) in the shootout.
Petr Cech 8
Paradoxically, not his best performance but still one that illustrated the qualities that have recently seen him return to his best. Should have done better for Muller’s goal but still beat a series of Bayern shots away before stopping the most important two of the final.
Jose Bosingwa 6
Given the runaround a bit by Ribery and almost skewed into his own goal out of anxiety at one point. Overall, he adequately filled his role in a defence that just about held together.
David Luiz 7
There wasn’t a hint of the kind of blunders and mishaps that have hindered his Chelsea career so far. This was a largely polished performance which reflected the sheer focus of the whole backline.
Gary Cahill 7
A few slips can be forgiven by the fact he was still recovering from a hamstring injury. He just about managed it in a display that was the culmination of a much improved run of form.
Ashley Cole 9
Almost flawless. Cole lost Muller for the forward’s goal but that never happened with Robben and was one of the main reasons Bayern’s control was never converted. His spot-kick was the definition of flawlessness.
John Obi Mikel 8
How many of Bayern’s numerous attacks successfully went through the centre? Not enough and that was down to the understated – but excellently executed – performance of Mikel.
Frank Lampard 8
In many ways, Lampard is a modern Kevin Keegan. Not overly naturally gifted, he has worked hard to add elements to, and enhance, his overall game. On Saturday, we saw the latest: defensive responsibility and some excellent passing.
Saloman Kalou 6
In a team that couldn’t commit too much to attack, he was often left waiting for counters. He looked sharp when they arrived, forcing Neuer into his first save. Ultimately, a typical Kalou display.
Juan Mata 6
Never really released due to Chelsea’s system, but one first-half break caused Bayern a lot of problems. And, while he missed from the spot, his dead-on accurate dead-ball allowed Drogba to equalise.
Ryan Bertrand 7
An intriguing inclusion who was in the team for one reason: to curb Lahm. Since the full-back never really got forward until Bertrand went off, he did quite well.
Didier Drogba 9
The player whose force makes Di Matteo’s minimalist system workable. Drogba effectively does the work of two men up front and, in the end, illustrated greater fight than everyone to power home the equaliser. Despite stupidly giving away a penalty, the fact he scored his own – the winner – was fitting.
Florent Malouda 5
Little impact other than filling a hole in the team.
Fernando Torres 7
Injected huge energy and pace to Chelsea. It could even be argued he livened up the game.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved