It is probably reading too much into Chelsea’s current situation to feel that on the day of the 10-year anniversary of the Blues’ iconic Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich in 2012, the end of the Roman Abramovich era could not have been better summarised than that night.
Few words can do it justice, the twist and turns, the tension that I still feel watching the game back today, a feeling that no other rewatching of a major game has given me. It symbolised a golden generation of Chelsea players and, more broadly, how it cinematically concluded a near 10-year chase for the holy grail.
Winning the Champions League in the Allianz is unlikely to be topped by any future team in Royal Blue, simply for the power of it being the first time and the series of chaotic events that led to its ending that dreamy May night.
I was not out in Munich, but I knew several who were, some who had travelled to Germany without a ticket, eventually watching the game in fan zones outnumbered by local Bayern fans. After Didier Drogba’s winning penalty went in, it was astonishing that night going out around my local streets on the way to soak up the joy around Stamford Bridge.
Most hilariously, one supporter just in his underwear barreled out of his flat to hug me and my Dad, two people he’d never met before. I haven’t seen this man since, but on that night, every Chelsea fan was in sync. We had all felt the pain of the ghost goal, the penalty heartbreak of Moscow and the disgrace of a certain official’s performance in 2009.
Although 2021’s triumph was highly emotional, the journey to it was measured and controlled, as was the final win over Manchester City. Thomas Tuchel’s squad had been defensively assured, ruthless on the break and rarely looked in danger of collapse. The final reflected the journey to it, as did 2012’s final – but in the opposite way.
From the second-leg comeback against Napoli after Andre Villas-Boas’ dismissal, there was endless drama. The most convincing of the wins against Benfica in the quarter-final still saw Chelsea survive a barrage of attacks in the first leg, also seeing off a spirited comeback in the second.
Both legs against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona will go down in Chelsea folklore, the second sparking a set of circumstances that would have seen off most teams in Europe. 2-0 down, a captain sent off and frayed minds against the reigning European Champions. The expectation was that the Spanish giants would comfortably end the dream.
But then a Frank Lampard pass in first-half stoppage time and a Ramires chip from the heavens later, and everything changed. Like the eventual final, it was a never-ending 45 minutes worth of stress, compounded by one of two penalties conceded by Drogba in the final two rounds, both missed by two of the competition’s standout players in Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben.
The Fernando Torres goal in itself is worth its own separate piece, a moment that, for many, will keep the Spaniard on the good side of Chelsea’s hearts forever, even if his £50m transfer never brought the riches we had hoped, this goal will be replayed for generations, something very few players can attain within a career.
Didier Drogba, to some, is seen as Chelsea’s greatest. On the 19th of May 2012, he catapulted himself to the Mount Rushmore of Chelsea faces. With a flick of his head and a swipe of his right boot, he had gone from legend to icon, symbolically finding Lampard and John Terry for an embrace as the celebrations ensured. Three names, along with Petr Cech, helped define an unrivalled era in the Blues’ history.
One that, as the club enters an uncertain future, will forever bring joy to supporters on replay. 2012 best symbolised the Abramovich era for all its flaws and turmoil but overriding success. It was frantic and, at times, cobbled together, with Ryan Bertrand starting his first Champions League game on the night of the final.
An interim in Roberto Di Matteo taking a squad underperforming and lacking direction into one that would go on to achieve the final step that looked out of reach as the major players aged and the squad looked weaker than its peak under Jose Mourinho in the mid-2000s.
As we close the book on the Abramovich era, the phrase that keeps coming up is chaos and trophies, two very apt words for the past 19 years and few matches better encapsulate that than the night Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time.