Chelsea and the Holy Grail
For the Dutch National football team, there is the FIFA World Cup. For Pete Sampras, there was the French Open. Drawing a similar analogy, for Chelsea football club, it has to be the UEFA Champions league.
Chelsea, over the past decade, have been really close on a number of occasions to claim Europe’s top footballing honour. But on most attempts, they’ve fallen agonisingly short, mainly due to the absence of a lady called luck.
Let’s start off by looking at Chelsea’s solid at first, but gradually stuttering campaigns over the years:
Season 2003-2004 (The Ibarra handball ):
This was the first real crack Chelsea had at the Champions league under Roman Abramovich. And it probably was the best chance they had. In a final four line up including Porto, Deportivo La Coruna and AS Monaco, Chelsea were clear favourites.
However, in the semi-final first leg against Monaco, they went down 3-1 away, courtesy two late Monaco goals. Although, they made up the deficit in the return leg, leading 2-0 in 45 minutes, an unpenalised, illegal goal scored off Hugo Ibarra’s hand, made it 2-1. Chelsea pressed for an equaliser, but were hit on the counter by Monaco’s Fernando Morientes, who put the tie beyond Chelsea’s reach.
Monaco however lost the final 3-0.
Season 2004-2005 (The ghost goal ):
It had arguably been Chelsea’s best ever season in terms of Premier League records set. Upon the arrival of Jose “the special one” Mourinho, Chelsea started playing conservative, yet effective football, as they won both the Premier league and the Carling Cup.
In the Champions league semi-finals, they were expected to sweep Liverpool away. Liverpool however, were on the path of scripting their own improbable stories. They held on for a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge.
In the return leg, an early ‘goal’ from Luis Garcia, that didn’t seem to cross the line, gave Liverpool the victory. Replays are still inconclusive, and this incident was one that convinced FIFA to start looking at goal line technology more seriously.
The goal, according to Mourinho, was “a ghost goal” and “a goal that came from the moon”.
Season 2006-2007 (The shootout):
Chelsea were in their third semi-final in four years. And they were up against a strong Liverpool side who had history on their side. Chelsea were also stronger on paper compared to previous years, with a few high profile signings, including arrivals of Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko.
Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 in the first leg, courtesy a Joe Cole strike, but Liverpool won their home leg 1-0 and the game went to penalties. Chelsea were really poor in the shootout, losing 4-1.
Season 2007-2008 (The slip):
Definitely the most painful occasion to revisit as a Chelsea fan, the blues this time had reached the finals of the Champions league, by overcoming their nemesis, Liverpool, in the semis.
It was an All-English affair with Manchester United being the opponents. After a topsy-turvy encounter, where both teams had enough chances and more to finish each other off, a shootout was to decide the winner, after the score read 1-1 at full time.
Chelsea’s inspirational skipper John Terry had the opportunity to win the match with the last spot-kick before sudden death. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, he took a modest run-up and sent United’s keeper the wrong way. I thought Chelsea had won. I think the whole world was fooled into believing it for about a millisecond. The next instant, Terry was on the pitch, in tears, after the ball had agonisingly hit the post, following a slip and a skewed shot. And just like that, the chance had vapourised. United later went on to win the shootout in sudden death.
Surely not Terry, not our JT, every Chelsea fan cried; they knew he would take a miss like this harder and more personally than anyone else. Yes, Anelka went on to blow the decisive one but the skipper had spurned the one which should have brought the cup to London.
Naturally, not a soul would blame a man who, as Avram Grant said afterwards “is the main reason we are here”, a soldier who has battled through six injuries this season, from a smashed cheekbone to a broken foot, to pilot Chelsea to Moscow.
Still, that wasn’t the point; Terry was going to scold himself anyway. For ever and ever. Frank Lampard, whose mum’s recent death had put sport into a new perspective for him, tried to remind JT out there that “there are more important things than football” but knew that his mate was deaf to consolation.
Season 2008-2009 (The controversial referee):
Chelsea had secured their usual place as one of the last four teams in the Champions league. They faced an extremely strong and favoured Barcelona side but held on for a 0-0 draw in the first leg. In the second leg at Stamford Bridge, a Michael Essien screamer put Chelsea in control. The blues then went in search of a second goal that would give them a great cushion, and pave their way into the final.
It was then that the referee Tom Henning Øvrebø, inexplicably, turned down at least four penalty appeals by the Chelsea team, including a shirt pull on Didier Drogba by Éric Abidal, handballs by Piqué and Eto’o, and grab on Malouda by Alves in the penalty area.
Chelsea could have still made it through, had it not been for a special Andres Iniesta goal deep into stoppage time, which left the blues feeling cheated, robbed and once again dejected.
Emotions poured out after the game, with several Chelsea players confronting Øvrebø on the field including substituted Didier Drogba, who was recorded shouting “It’s a f**king disgrace!” into live television cameras.
All said and done being a Chelsea fan for a good nine years, it’s really hard to see them come so close each time and crash out. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a good thing, since a victory tastes sweetest after a number of painful losses. Every season begins with hope, as did the current season, with the appointment of the youthful and energetic Andre Villas Boas at the helm. But all that looks far from possible, as Chelsea currently trail Napoli by a 3-1 margin going into the second leg. And with the ouster of AVB currently making headlines at the bridge, it looks like the wait for Chelsea’s golden generation of the Terry’s, the Lampard’s and the Drogba’s to get their hands on the elusive European silverware will continue.