The Champions League final should never have been about English clubs this year. The two best and most in-form English teams this year couldn’t even navigate out of the group stages, and yet here we are: a Champions League final from way out in left field and another opportunity for the Premier League to converge on a controversial topic should Chelsea win.
It really shouldn’t have mattered; there was a lot to look forward to from this years Champions League final. Another Clasico rematch—because who doesn’t love those—or how about Bayern Munich getting another shot at the trophy that eluded them two years ago. No, no, those footballing Gods had another plan for us. As if the ridiculous stories of racism, video technology, refereeing, and, of course, the decision for no handshakes between Chelsea and QPR (seriously?) weren‘t enough, we now get to backhand either Arsenal, Newcastle or Spurs into the secondary tier of European football. The Premier League just can’t get away from a sensational story this season.
OK, I’ll give you the whole drama, eye-gauging, and Pepe-stamping of the Clasico. I’ll even give you the harshness of Unai Emery being chased out of town by Valencia. Or what about the fact that a team in La Liga who could qualify for European football next season has a goal difference of minus-16. The only thing more ridiculous was perhaps Bayern Munich’s promise earlier this season of a new signing, only to unveil a mobile phone application. Such a success that was that they were forced into early discussions with Basel for Xherdan Shaqiri to appease their fans, who were rightly miffed.
But the Champions League final really does take the cake on the scale of how outlandish we can get. The season will be over for everyone, except fans, board members, the manager, and Doris the tea lady of the team who finishes fourth in the Premier League. Somewhere, Michel Platini is loving this. Football couldn’t grant him his wish of a Clasico final, so instead he’s probably hoping for mass carnage in England, with an extra hint of hopefulness that Arsenal finish fourth. By the way, a £40,000 fine for Arsene Wenger voicing his displeasure at one of Uefa’s dodgy referees, are you joking? Well at least there isn’t any racist chants floating around football grounds that need seeing to.
I’m not saying that this ruling that the winner of the Champions League automatically goes into the following year’s competition is wrong, but there’s something so unnatural about this year. Maybe it is the fact that the absurdity of Chelsea knocking out Barcelona hasn’t quite settled in. But what about their absolute luck that they wouldn’t have to face Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid. Coupled with their goal that wasn’t in the FA Cup semifinal and Arsenal hitting the post a couple of times last week, this has been a decent few weeks for Roberto Di Matteo. Even Fernando Torres is back. I won’t hear anything else, he’s back!
The only thing worse than a Chelsea win for whoever is unfortunate enough to have finished fourth, is the endless praising from the rest of the media about how great and conquering Chelsea and English football is. The Premier League would have (rightfully, according to some) retaken it’s place at the throne, while watching Barcelona fall off a cliff in a ball of flames. You know, like that bloke in the third Lord of the Rings film.
I’m not even going to go down the path of suggesting Chelsea don’t deserve the Champions League. Looking back over recent history, it’s not always been the best team from their respective league that has gone to the final—Liverpool, AC Milan, Arsenal. Nevertheless, the winner has traditionally been a team who finished in the top three of four of their league, avoiding this kind of discussion.
But the match on May 19th isn’t just going to be about Chelsea fans, Bayern fans, and the neutrals—can’t forget the neutrals—there is certainly going to be a group of fans from one of Arsenal, Newcastle or Spurs that are hoping Manuel Neuer does his best Gandalf impression, staff and sword in-hand, as he shuts out Chelsea with a “You shall not pass.” Yes, lots of that please.
It’s an injustice to the fourth-placed team and, in some ways, a reward to English football when it really isn’t deserving of it. The only thing Uefa seem to be getting right is their insistence that John Terry won’t raise the trophy should they win.
We can only hope now that Chelsea allow us to avoid all of this controversy and witch hunts and blaming Arsene Wenger by doing the treble and winning the FA Cup, winning the Champions League, and finishing fourth. Remember, fourth place is still a trophy.