Chelsea returned to London on Sunday with the UEFA Champions League trophy in tow after a penalty shoot-out victory over Bayern Munich in the German side’s own stadium completed a fairytale campaign for the Blues.
Didier Drogba’s final penalty not only crowned Chelsea as the champions of Europe for the first time in the club’s history, but it also meant a team from England’s capital had at long last delivered the continental title following near misses for Arsenal in 2006 and the Blues themselves four years ago.
As supporters prepare to watch their heroes parade both the Champions League prize and the FA Cup around west London, praise has been widespread for Chelsea’s brave performance in Munich and not least from the media across England.
The Sunday Times claimed that “one of the great stories of modern sport is over”, with reference to the passionate desire within the club to one day triumph in Europe’s elite club competition after so many previous disappointments, such as the 2008 final defeat against Manchester United in Moscow.
Long-serving players such as Petr Cech, Drogba, Frank Lampard and captain John Terry - who missed a spot-kick which would have won the tournament for Chelsea against United - have shared the obsession of owner Roman Abramovich, who has been fixated with the Champions League since he took over the Blues in 2003.
“Chelsea's hunt for the Champions League had become as epic as the pursuit of baseball's World Series by the Boston Red Sox, New Zealand's attempt to win back the Rugby World Cup, England's drive to become cricket's world No 1. And with all those quests in recent years, there was a happy ending,” The Sunday Times concluded.
Historic night in Munich
Press and television outlets throughout the country were in agreement that Chelsea had made history at the Allianz Arena. The BBC described their victory as the “greatest glory in their 107-year history” while The Guardian said Saturday was “a night that will go straight in at No1 in their list of great triumphs from the Roman Abramovich era.”
Chelsea have been criticised in some quarters for their defensive tactics during their Champions League quest this season, with their compact formation under interim manager Roberto Di Matteo frustrating the flair of Barcelona in the semi-finals and Bayern at the climax.
The English media readily accepted that the Bundesliga side deserved credit for their attacking exploits but backed the fighting spirit and determination of a Chelsea side who seemed down and out when they were beaten 3-1 by Napoli in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie back in February.
“It was against all odds that Chelsea beat Bayern at their own ground,” said The Independent, a sentiment shared by The Telegraph, which proclaimed the Blues’ glorious night as a “victory of stubbornness and strength”. The Guardian argued: “This may not be the most exhilarating Chelsea team but nobody can dispute their resolve.”
Destiny for Drogba
Particular praise was reserved across the board for Drogba, who scored Chelsea’s equaliser with a thundering header just minutes before the final whistle and then, having conceded a penalty in extra time, converted the vital spot-kick which sealed their 4-3 shoot-out victory.
“This was his moment to make history,” The Telegraph added and The BBC was in agreement, calling the penalty Drogba’s “moment of destiny”. With the Côte d'Ivoire striker expected to leave the club now that the season has concluded, The Guardian marvelled at his “parting gift” for Chelsea, who he joined in 2004.
Former player Jamie Redknapp, who watched the game as a pundit for Sky Sports, said: “You can't get better than that for Didier Drogba, to win the Champions League for your team with the last kick of the ball. He's showed that he is still a world-class performer and has carried them throughout this whole Champions League campaign; he has been magnificent.”
Alongside Redknapp was Ruud Gullit, once a player and later player-manager at Stamford Bridge. The Dutchman has talked throughout the season of a ‘blue angel’ protecting Chelsea’s goal and he summarised the final in similar fashion: “This is a miracle. It's almost like it was written in the stars.”