Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich learned last night that success on the soccer field can come when you least expect it.
The London club beat Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties in the German team’s Allianz Arena to become the first team from the British capital to win Europe’s elite club competition. The Russian owner got the trophy he’s craved since buying the team in 2003.
Winning the European Cup seemed a long way off earlier this year when Abramovich, who’s pumped $1 billion into the club, fired coach Andre Villas-Boas with Chelsea out of the title race in the Premier League and facing elimination from the Champions League after a 3-1 loss in the first match with Napoli.
“Football life is unpredictable and crazy,” said interim- coach Roberto Di Matteo, the former player chosen to lead Chelsea’s recovery. The Italian was also in the dugout when Chelsea beat Liverpool to win the F.A. Cup this season. “It’s been a very difficult season, to finish off like this is an incredible achievement for this team.”
The Blues owner celebrated with his players in the dressing room after the game, said defender Gary Cahill.
“He’s been chasing this trophy for many years,” said Cahill. “To finally get his hands on it, he was buzzing.”
Today, Chelsea’s players went on an open-top bus parade through West London as thousands of fans turned out to salute their heroes and see the Champions League and F.A. Cup trophies.
Last night’s victory gives the Blues a place in next season’s Champions League, even though the team missed out on automatic qualification by finishing sixth in the English league, their lowest league position in the Abramovich era. Tottenham, which finished in the Premier League’s final Champions League spot, will drop to the second-tier Europa League.
“I don’t know what the future’s going to hold,” said Di Matteo, amid speculation about whether he’ll keep his post. “We’re just delighted that we’ve made history for the club. It’s a difficult competition to win and you have to take your chance when it comes.”
The Blues reached the semifinals five of the past eight years but only advanced to one title match, losing to Premier League rival Manchester United in a penalty shootout in Moscow in 2008.
Facing Home Crowd
“I’ve been here for eight years, always so close and so far at the same time,” Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, whose contract expires after the season, told reporters. “Today we have it. We have this cup, the cup is going back to Stamford Bridge.”
This time round Abramovich’s team was faced by a vocal home crowd. UEFA, European soccer’s governing body and the tournament organizer, said it got more than a million ticket applications for the match, which was watched live by a global audience of around 150 million.
By qualifying for next year’s tournament, Chelsea gets at least 30 million pounds ($47.5 million) in broadcast revenue. Di Matteo said former coach Villas-Boas deserves credit for the victory as he put the team together.
“It makes a huge difference for future of our club,” Di Matteo said. “We always said it was crucial for Chelsea to be in the Champions League. Winning qualifies us for next season so it’s a double whammy in a positive sense.”
Minutes before kickoff, the Bayern supporters massed behind the South Curve revealed a giant mosaic with the words, “our stadium, our town, our cup.”
It wasn’t to be.
“It was a very bitter defeat,” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said in a press conference. “My team is very, very disappointed because of the result, but I think we can’t blame Chelsea for playing their game. If you have so many goal scoring opportunities, you have to take advantage of them and we didn’t manage to that. And that’s how we got the result we did today.”