Kanu & Finidi vs Mikel: Whose Champions League win was greater?

Goal consider whether Ajax’s dominant triumph in 1995 was more momentous than Chelsea’s underdog achievement 17 years later

Every Champions League win has its own unique story which distinguishes it from another.

Each triumph carries a level of significance that’ll make supporters of the winning side glorify it above another club’s honour.

Olympique de Marseille’s 1993 achievement — the first year under the new branding — against favourites AC Milan is lauded to this day as it remains the only success by a French outfit in the competition, despite Paris Saint-Germain’s recent riches.

Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in 1999 is unforgettable due to the last-gasp turnaround against the distraught Bavarians (just look up Sammy Kuffour’s post-match reaction!).

Liverpool’s 2005 shootout victory over AC Milan in Istanbul can’t be mentioned without recollecting their fightback from 3-0 down, while Barcelona’s treble-winning campaign under Pep Guardiola in 2009, Inter Milan matching the Spanish side’s feat a year later and Real Madrid finally fulfilling their Decima dream in 2014 have all left indelible marks.

Nwankwo Kanu Ajax

Nigerians have had success in the competition, too, with Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George winning it in 1995 with Ajax while Mikel John Obi’s success came three years short of two decades with Chelsea in 2012.

If the Dutch side’s emphatic triumph needed a perfect antithesis, it had to be the Blues’ victory against all odds. Kanu and Finidi played under Louis van Gaal’s structured but largely attacking set-up which saw them morph from a 3-4-3 (diamond midfield) to a 4-3-3 when they had possession.

George played a more prominent role in that fascinating side that went the entire European campaign unbeaten, with his role on the right flank one of the interesting facets of van Gaal’s system.

Both players’ telling contributions probably came in the same game — a 5-2 second-leg defeat of Bayern in Amsterdam — where the striker assisted two goals while Finidi netted a thunderous 25-yard strike into the top right corner to put the eventual winners 2-1 up on the night and on aggregate.

That team may have been young, but their dominance was unrivalled. Tellingly, their authority was not limited to the continent alone but also evident in the Eredivisie.

Finidi George

Domestically, they scored a staggering 106 goals and allowed only 28, emerging victorious in 27 of their 34 games while drawing the rest. In Europe, no team got the better of de Godenzonen who won their only CL title also going unbeaten.

Only three sides breached their defence all tournament and they kept clean sheets in all but one of their knockout games. They were undoubtedly the best team in the competition and remain, to date, the only side from the Netherlands to win the competition in its revamped format.

Aside from their impeccable domestic form, a truer measure of a team’s consistency, Kanu and Finidi’s return to another final the following year (they were beaten by Juventus on penalties) demonstrated that 1994/95’s success was no fluke.

Chelsea’s triumph, on the other hand, looked to be backed by providence and good fortune. Mention their 2012 triumph anywhere and qualifiers like grit, determination and never say die attitude immediately spring to mind.

Didier Drogba was the poster boy of that team’s unbelievable success, but Mikel’s contribution must not be underestimated.

Didier Drogba Juan Mata Chelsea Bayern Munich Champions League Final 2012

That team, frankly, weren’t that good and their sixth-place Premier League finish validates that claim.

The key players from the dominant years after Roman Abramovich — Petr Cech, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and the Ivory Coast legend — were all in their thirties, on the wane and were likely to be phased out by Andre Villas-Boas, whose sacking galvanised the ageing Blues.

2012’s triumph looked to be the universe rewarding the West London side for their failures on the continent which included four semi-final defeats between 2004 and 2009 and that cruel loss on penalties at the hands of Man United in 2008.

Having said that, if Drogba’s clutch moments helped Chelsea to their Holy Grail, Mikel’s performances typified the backs to the wall nature of their run to European glory.

The anchorman played every minute of the London giants’ games from the quarter-final, culminating in his amazing showing at the Allianz Arena against hugely favoured Bayern.

Drogba may have scored the late equaliser and netted the winning penalty, but Mikel’s ball retention, positional awareness, dominance in one-v-one tussles and interceptions greatly helped an under-pressure Blues team stay in the game for so long.

It was a triumph against all odds and vindication for the setbacks endured in previous campaigns, and the Nigerian played a dominant role in that unexpected achievement.

It’s hard to look beyond Kanu and Finidi’s Ajax’s 1995 triumph as the greater success, owing to their absolute dominance on all fronts, but Chelsea supporters, in making their case, will put forward the narrative of the welterweight surprising several heavyweights in stupefying circumstances to win the club’s only CL title to date.

This may well change in this weekend’s final vs huge favourites Man City, with many followers intermittently claiming the side are due another triumph on the continent.

Many of those fans are Nigerians, and it’ll be apt for those citizens to remember the West London club’s triumph in 2012 and look back at Ajax’s feat affectionately.

While no Nigerian will take part in this year’s final, there’s no harm in being absorbed in all the nostalgia of the nation’s stars’ previous successes to whet the appetite before City face Chelsea under the lights in Portugal on Saturday.   

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