Early Doors

Defiant Drogba epitomises Chelsea spirit

Early Doors

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As Didier Drogba made the lonely walk from the halfway line to a penalty area inhabited by the imposing frame of Manuel Neuer and loomed over by a teeming mass of red and white, their hostile whistles piercing the Munich night, he embraced an extraordinary alignment of destiny and fate. And as what could well be his last ever strike for Chelsea rippled the net, one end of the Allianz Arena fell deathly silent while the other erupted in utter relief. Outplayed for the majority of the tie, Chelsea, quite unbelievably, were European champions for the first time.

With one swing of his boot, and a flick of his head with just two minutes remaining of normal time, Drogba changed the history of Chelsea Football Club forever, and the legacy that he will bequeath to the game. A man who may walk away from Stamford Bridge this summer will do so as one of the club's greatest ever servants, and perhaps the greatest. Three league titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, 146 goals and now one Champions League. It is a compelling collection.

Few figures have brought drama — and, yes, outright acting — to sport's biggest stages with as much regularity as Drogba has for Chelsea in his eight years at the club: his prolific record of eight goals in eight games at Wembley tells you that.

While in previous Champions League campaigns this ability to steal the spotlight has at times manifested itself in red cards and sweary rants — and even on Saturday he exhibited the self-destructive streak that accompanies him in this competition when giving away a penalty that Arjen Robben spurned — ultimately in Munich his ability to grasp the occasion resulted in him settling the biggest club game on earth and ensuring Chelsea would become the first London side to win the Champions League.

Faced with a rampant yet wasteful Bayern side, who had in excess of 40 shots, Drogba refused to cower; he took history into his own hands and made some of his own for Chelsea. Accepting the applause of the media pack minutes after having conducted a lap of honour with the European Cup on the Munich turf, the striker remained coy on his future, but as he thanked past and present team-mates and previous managers he did adopt the tone of a man looking to an alternative future.

He said: "Today is a great day for our club, the fans, the players. I am just really happy and I don't know if there are enough words to describe what I feel now. What happens now? We are going to enjoy it and have fun, party together. The last kick of the season and what a way to do it. I don't think we can take decisions on emotional moments like this."

Drogba's personal triumph on a dramatic night in Munich, and that of his team, was Chelsea's season in microcosm: disappointing for long spells, they were all but written off when Thomas Mueller headed a more vibrant and talented Bayern side in front after 83 minutes. However, through sheer force of will, this ageing side, inspired by a 34-year-old striker, summoned up once last act of defiance, delivered one more riposte to their critics as the game wound to a close.

And while Chelsea's fans serenaded their dancing, delirious heroes as they paraded the trophy in front of them with a hearty rendition of "we shall not be moved", it seemed not only the chant of a delighted group of supporters hailing a commendably resolute performance, embodied by the peerless and magnificent Ashley Cole, but a defiant and lustful validation of the attitude which certain elements of this Chelsea squad possess. Defiance runs through this side.

The defiance to overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Napoli; the defiance to hold out against the great Barcelona over two legs; the defiance to resist the attempts of Andre Villas-Boas to change its focus prior to his departure; the defiance to laugh in the face of the many, many critics who have said their best days are behind them throughout the season; and the defiance of this group of players to overcome disappointment after disappointment in the competition to finally bring the Champions League to Stamford Bridge for Roman Abramovich.

It was the same on Saturday night. As Frank Lampard indicated prior to the match, his team-mates were fully prepared to be cast in the role of underdogs, and against Bayern Chelsea were undoubtedly the inferior side, by some distance. Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger dominated midfield from their withdrawn roles. Bayern were sharper in possession, used the space open to them far more effectively, exploited angles that Chelsea could not see and employed parts of their brains that Chelsea failed to activate.

Only some criminally wasteful finishing from Mario Gomez, Mueller - his goal aside - and Arjen Robben prevented Jupp Heynckes's team from securing what should have been their fifth European Cup in their home city. Instead, faced with a constant red tide of pressure, Chelsea stood admirably firm - pushing their luck at times, certainly — and refused to be consigned to history's list of losers as they were in Moscow in 2008.

Even when everything was stacked against them, as it was on Saturday, this group of players found a way.

Bayern were playing in front of a home crowd in a city that saw 200,000 supporters take to the streets on Saturday afternoon in anticipation of one of the greatest moments in the club's history. They had the home dressing room and even conducted the penalty shoot-out in front of their own fans. When Mueller scored, the stadium announcer hollered his name three times, before inviting Bayern supporters to boo Chelsea. Though UEFA had been at pains to suggest otherwise, this was unmistakably a home game for the Germans. As such, Chelsea played like a particularly unambitious away team.

Everything had seemingly fallen into place for a Bayern side that was ready to erase the memories of finishing second in the league and German cup by securing a more valuable trophy — the most valuable trophy. The scales were tipped in their favour; the more talented players were in their stable. But by 11.15pm their collection of stars had been left crushed, lying distraught in the centre-circle as disbelief enveloped the Allianz Arena.

This will register as a huge trauma for a club that has snatched disaster from the jaws of glory against English teams in the past. It was Munich's own version of Brazil's so-called 'Maracanazo' from the 1950 World Cup when, against all logic and expectation, the South American nation succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in the final in their own Maracana stadium, casting a deep gloom over the Brazilian game for decades.

Given how poorly they played for long spells, Chelsea's victory was almost inexplicable. But they possessed psychological faculties that their opponents did not. As Roberto Di Matteo — his future still unclear despite an FA Cup and Champions League double — said to the press: "When they scored with seven minutes to go there wasn't much time for us but the heart and passion these players have shown in this competition especially has been immense."

Drogba was more blunt. "We gave everything," he said. "I don't know if we will have enough energy to party tonight." But Chelsea surely did go out and paint the town blue. After a season in which they have been repeatedly told they are too old and obsolete, this magnificently defiant team had earned a massive blow-out, even if it does prove to be the start of a prolonged and painful goodbye.

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