One of the enduring moments of Champions League history is the sight of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team progressing to the final of the competition on their way to winning an historic treble and, subsequently, every trophy they entered in the calendar year of 2009.
But although the moment of their progression is etched onto the minds of anyone who saw it, it’s rarely just Andres Iniesta’s last-minute winner at Stamford Bridge that many remember: The furious Chelsea reaction to what they saw as four legitimate penalties not given by Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo rivals it for drama and fervour.
Often in emotional pressure-cooker moments – like when your team concedes a last-gasp winner in a Champions League semi-final – you can forgive some player reactions for going over the top, provided they aren’t way over the line, of course. Fan reactions too, to an extent, are expected. But sometimes the extent to which the players protest and vent their fury over what has happened keeps the reactions heated for longer than is wise.
This was one such occasion.
The moment to savour wasn’t Iniesta’s winner. Nor was it a Chelsea victory over two legs, after scoring a penalty given, perhaps fairly, by the referee to send them into the final after a 2-0 win on the night. Instead, the sight of Didier Drogba harassing the referee before spying a TV camera and shouting “It’s a f*****g disgrace” into millions of homes around the world is what lasted. Moments of brilliance or anger are fleeting, but the camera footage endures. Rarely, though, does football break the fourth wall in such a way.
“I still get a few death threats, but they go straight into the garbage box. I don’t take them seriously, although sometimes I wonder about the people who send them. Just yesterday I got an email from a Chelsea fan saying he wanted to kill me and my family.”
Perhaps that’s what riled Chelsea’s fans for so long after the fact, and indeed with quite so much vitriol. Ovrebo wasn’t just a man reviled by a fan base with a right to their anger, but he also claimed to have been sent death threats three years after the match.
And so when Chelsea’s Champions League ball was drawn out of the pot just before that of FC Barcelona, it was hard not to cast your mind back eight years to a different time in English football’s history.
Back then, Barcelona were on their way to their first trophies under Pep Guardiola. It was his first season at the club as manager, but already he was building something special. Manchester City finished that season in 10th place in the Premier League, ahead of Wigan a place below them and West Ham United just above. This season, Guardiola might well be building something special yet again, this time at the Etihad Stadium, but Chelsea and Barcelona will resume the rivalry once more.
They’ve met since, of course. In 2012, the Champions League semi-final pitted the two together again, and Chelsea’s last-minute Fernando Torres strike – which spawned the now-vintage Gary Neville commentary scream – helped the Blues get their own back at the home of their rivals and they’d go on to win a Champions League of their own that season.
That game may well have put to bed the rivalry in some ways. Or it might have something to do with the fact that Blues fans blamed the referee for his mistakes, not the team who simply benefitted from it.
The last three times that these two clubs have met in the knockout stages of the Champions League – in 2006, 2009, and 2012 – the winner has gone on to lift the trophy at the end of the season. This time, the same thing could well happen. And when the stakes are that high, emotions run high, too. The margins are so thin that yet again in 2018, a last-minute goal or even something as peripheral as a referee could well cost one of these teams European glory at the end of the season.