There was a time, when the Champions League was perceived as not just the holy grail for Chelsea Football Club but also the ultimate litmus test for managers. If the manager failed in the Champions League, then that manager was on the hot seat, to say the least. Back then, Chelsea was still trying to position itself as one of the big clubs in all of Europe. Back then, Chelsea were in a position not so dissimilar from that of Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City right now. We were bold, efficient, we were ambitious, and to some we might’ve been a little bit overconfident (especially in the Mourinho days).
As has been tradition at Chelsea, the board was also ruthless when it came to manager evaluation, and if the best wasn’t achieved, then something had to change in West London. That was the mantra for a long time. After the Champions League final defeat against Manchester United in Moscow in 2008, it started to look like Chelsea were not going to grasp the holy grail with the first generation of players from the Roman Abramovich-era of Chelsea Football Club. But then something changed.
Halfway through the 2011-2012 season, Chelsea hit the panic button and fired André Villas-Boas as head coach and replaced him with Roberto Di Matteo. Something had to change, as Chelsea were witnessing their old guard losing their opportunity to become Champions League winners. But, then after a little bit of luck and a couple of moments of magic, the core of the first generation of Chelsea players from the so-called Roman-empire finally hoisted the coveted Champions League trophy after defeating Bayern München in Munich.
We were massive underdogs, we were playing at a not-so-neutral ground, our squad was depleted and aging, but, nevertheless, Chelsea Football Club became UEFA Champions League winners, thus inscribing names such as Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, and many others into the history books as true Chelsea legends who would live forever. It was probably Lampard, Terry, Cole, Cech, and Drogba’s last chance at Champions League glory, and they managed to succeed against the odds.
2012 / 2021: Similarities and Frank Lampard…
Many Chelsea fans, such as myself, have made it very clear that to some extent the 2011-2012 season was eerily similar to how the 2020-2021 season went for Chelsea. Halfway through the 2020-2021 season, Chelsea let their manager go — Chelsea-legend, Frank Lampard, arguably the most beloved manager to have coached Chelsea — and, in the Champions League, on our way to the 2020-2021 UEFA Champions League final, Chelsea came up against a Portuguese team (Benfica in 2012, and FC Porto in 2021) and even defeated a Spanish outfit in the semi-final (FC Barcelona in 2012, and Real Madrid in 2021).
Heck, just like in 2011-2012, Chelsea even reached the FA Cup final in 2021. And when Chelsea F.C. lined up against Manchester City in Portugal in the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2021, they were once again massive underdogs, even though Chelsea had defeated Man City twice previously under our new brilliant manager, Thomas Tuchel. And just like in 2012, our 2021 generation of players defied the odds and defeated a league champion in the Champions League final. But one thing is very different in 2021. If the 2012 final was the end of an era for the old guard, then the 2021 final feels like the beginning of a new era for Chelsea.
Optimism has returned to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea Football Club. Though he was ultimately let go, Frank Lampard safely navigated through a transfer ban, as well as Chelsea’s first season without star talisman Eden Hazard, and steered Chelsea F.C. into the top four of the Premier League in his first season. Then he helped us win our UEFA Champions League group in the second and final season of Lampard’s first tenure as a manager here. At the same time, he helped secure young talents such as Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, and Kai Havertz, while he also made it possible for Chelsea academy talents to have their first team breakthrough, as young players like Mason Mount, Reece James, and others became first team regulars or outright stars.
The Final and The Future: Academy Stars, A Moment of Magic, and The Start of Something New…
Captained by Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea went onto the pitch at Estádio do Dragão in Portugal with a line-up that included academy talents Mason Mount and Reece James, as well as players like Thiago Silva, Edouard Mendy, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell and Kai Havertz who were all in their first season with Chelsea. There were many fresh faces in one way or another. Already in the first half, Chelsea would have to replace the very experienced Thiago Silva with the Danish centerback Andreas Christensen, who joined the Chelsea academy the very same season that Azpilicueta first joined the Blues. Christensen was thrown into a difficult situation, but he rose to the occasion and shone like the other Chelsea-blue players.
It was a difficult game but also one that Thomas Tuchel managed to perfection. Reece James mostly neutralized Raheem Sterling, and Manchester City rarely came to major chances. Whenever they had an opportunity to shoot inside of the penalty box, then Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rüdiger, or Andreas Christensen would throw themselves in front of the ball and prevent the light-blue Manchester players from getting too many shots on target. And when Manchester City would kickstart a counter-attack, players such as Mason Mount or the impeccable N’Golo Kanté would always rush back and provide safety.
Chelsea, in fairness, had a good number of chances, especially in the first half. However, they often fell to the wrong player. But then a moment of magic emerged. After receiving the ball on Chilwell’s left side of the pitch, Mason Mount looked up and saw that Timo Werner’s movement had created a hole in the center of the pitch that Kai Havertz had run into. Mount then delivered a perfectly-timed through-ball to Havertz who went ’round a charging Man City goalkeeper, Ederson, and passed the ball into the net. That was 1-0, and that was all she wrote. No other goals were scored in the ninety minutes, and Chelsea Football Club thus earned their second UEFA Champions League trophy, which should now position them as one of the most pivotal clubs of the last two decades.
And I really do think that Chelsea earned this Champions League win. We won our group stage with ease, navigated a shift in managers halfway through the season, and, in the knock-out stages, we defeated teams such as Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, and, yes, Manchester City. None of those wins were decided by luck. Chelsea earned all of those wins and certainly outplayed both Madrid clubs. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I thought the final was an absolutely amazing evening. I watched the final from the comfort of my own home, just a couple of meters from where I saw the 2012 Champions League final. I saw the 2021 final with my friend, Sidney, and I know that my family was also on the edge of their seats in the next room. It was dramatic, I was nervous, but Chelsea won the game and we all cheered and threw our arms in the air accordingly.
We witnessed as academy players like Reece James, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, Billy Gilmour, and Andreas Christensen (yes, I would also include him) inscribed themselves into the club history books, on an evening where they achieved some kind of club stardom. Mason Mount, Andreas Christensen, and Reece James — since they played the final and helped the team reach it — can now definitively claim that they are true blue legends. The same can be said for Antonio Rüdiger, N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho, and Cesar Azpilicueta. They finally got to hoist the trophy that they, like Thiago Silva, had chased most of their career, and I could not be happier for them. I also think of Edouard Mendy’s incredible and inspirational rollercoaster journey to the top, as well as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz’s difficulties adjusting to the Premier League during the COVID-19 pandemic. Honestly, I think the entire squad achieved some kind of legendary status that night. They are Chelsea legends, and all of them deserved that special moment.
And what happens next? Well, that is what is so exciting. In a way, this could be just another chapter for so many of these players. Mount, James, Hudson-Odoi, Christensen, Havertz, Werner, Pulisic, and others could potentially go on to win several more huge titles as Chelsea players. This could be the beginning of a Chelsea-blue sports dynasty. Only time will tell. The rest is still unwritten, as the saying goes. There is a lot of cause for optimism, because the people who get to write the next chapter of Chelsea Football Club are young, they are gifted, and they are already legends. On top of that, we have a manager, in Thomas Tuchel, who has proven himself on the biggest stage of them all. So, perhaps more than ever, keep the blue flag flying high, Chelsea fans!
– Article Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.