Belfast Telegraph

Steven Beacom: Why we should all stand up and admire Chelsea

It was in a pub called The Winning Post close to Twickenham. Ulster and Leinster rugby fans mingled with the locals as all watched the Champions League final.

We may have been in south west London, not that far from Stamford Bridge, but the majority of those in the bar were rooting for Bayern Munich.

Football rivalry tends to get the better of you on occasions like this — most Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal fans didn't want Chelsea to win the European Cup. Tottenham followers certainly didn't with victory for the Blues relegating them from the gloss of the Champions League to the dross that is the Europa League.

There was also the Chelsea factor in all this. For opposing supporters they have become a hard team to like.

There's always been money in football, but the romantics believe that when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea and started throwing a mind-blowing £1 billion at the club the ruination of the beautiful game began.

Then there's the personnel which include unpopular characters like John Terry and Ashley Cole plus the dynamic Didier Drogba.

Even if you loathe the Blues though, today you must applaud and admire them for what they achieved on Saturday night. Without question their Champions League success is one of the greatest in history.

Remember Chelsea were 3-1 down after a tortuous first leg quarter-final away to Napoli. There seemed no way back but after manager Andre Villas-Boas was sacked and replaced on a temporary basis by his assistant, Roberto Di Matteo, a stunning comeback was produced in the second leg to overcome the highly rated Italians.

Then came the semi-final with Barcelona, the best team ever, with the best player we have ever seen. Somehow Chelsea won the first leg before the miracle of the Nou Camp when, after Terry stupidly got himself sent off, 10 men stood firm in the face of the most exacting pressure. Lionel Messi missed a penalty and, amazing everyone just as much, Fernando Torres scored at the other end.

Still there was one last mighty mountain to climb — beating a fired-up Bayern Munich side in their own stadium, without the suspended Terry and several other regulars.

Yet, incredibly, they did it — despite being dominated by the ‘home team' and trailing 1-0 with two minutes left and then going through the agony of penalties against the experts, the Germans in Germany, who had previously beaten Real Madrid this way in the Bernabeu.

Drogba's magnificent header had taken the game to extra-time only for him to give away a spot-kick to ex-Chelsea star Arjen Robben, who saw his poor effort saved by Petr Cech. The Ivory Coast striker was to have one further final remarkable say.

In control of the shoot-out, Bayern unexpectedly missed twice leaving Drogba, possibly with his last kick for the club, to net the winner which will forever be celebrated on the King's Road. Fate, destiny, call it what you will. This had been written in the stars.

Chelsea players and their disbelieving, delirious fans savoured every last drop of joy in the Allianz Arena and yesterday they were out in their thousands creating a sea of blue in west London to salute the homecoming kings.

There were deafening cheers for Di Matteo, the finest interim manager of all time, having won the FA Cup and Champions League in a matter of weeks after restoring the belief, togetherness and desire that made Chelsea into such a formidable domestic force under Jose Mourinho.

RDM is the Special One now. Surely he deserves the job full-time because everything changed on Saturday. Chelsea's history, Chelsea's stature, the lot.

This is what Abramovich wanted all along and this is what long- serving players have strived for down the years. Players like Ashley Cole, utterly brilliant against Bayern, Cech, whose penalty saves are now the stuff of legend, Frank Lampard, the club's most consistent performer for a decade, Terry, who to Blues fans will always be Mr Chelsea and Stamford Bridge's darling Drogba — THE man for the BIG occasion.

Hate them if you like, but they've earned your admiration too.

Congratulations Chelsea, European champions.

Belfast Telegraph

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