To paraphrase a line from Crocodile Dundee - “Call that a final?”….”Now THAT’S a final!”.
For all the doomsayers predicting a dreary, stagnant snooze-fest to equal the boring FA Cup Final Manchester United and Chelsea served up in 2007 – how wrong you all were? Even as the clock ticked past one in the morning at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium it would have been hard to force a yawn as the Premier League winners and runners-up played out an action packed Champions League final – the first to be contested by two English clubs.
It was testament to both teams, so different in style but so evenly matched over an entire season, that the width of a goal post was all that separated them. Despite the stadium’s closer proximity to Red Square then Trafalgar Square and the Champions League logo bedecking every surface in view, this was unequivocally an English Premier League game. The tempo of the match was furious and the tackles, full blooded. The game ebbed and flowed, with each team imposing dominance at different moments but with so little between the sides, defeat and victory were never so finely in the balance.
United boast a wealth of attacking riches. In Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, the side has three men that can turn a game and who between them have scored over 70 goals this season. Their entirely English midfield of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves blended perfectly the qualities of hard graft, excellent distribution, defensive durability and attacking guile. In defence, Patrice Evra - arguably the best left back in the world - joins Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic - two of the best centre backs in the world - in a hard working and rigid rearguard. All these elements have made United into a free flowing attacking machine who although able to shut up shop, prefer to continue to push forwards at every opportunity.
Chelse aare quite simply a team who are hard to beat. From back to front there is a power and a drive that can either grind out victories or demolish the opposition into defeat. Players such as Michael Essien, Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry epitomise the side’s strength and hard work but with ability to match. With these men alongside Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda and the immense presence of goalkeeper Petr Cech the team is solid and dependable, and although the aesthetics of the side are often questioned their results speak for themselves.
As close as both teams have been, their contrast of styles mirrored their contrasting seasons. United lifted the Premier League title for the 10th time on a nail biting last day of the season. Sir Alex Ferguson picked up the mantle of Manager of the Year. His star man Ronaldo stormed his way to all the player of the season awards he could get his hands on, netting the golden boot along the way with an incredible 31 goals. Last night’s shoot out victory made it a League and European Cup double for the second time in United’s history and even when their Portuguese prodigy failed with his spot kick, the safe hands of Edwin Van Der Sar saw them home.
For Chelsea, the season has been a catalogue of close calls. But for Emile Heskey’s injury time equaliser, it could have been they who were battling for a league and cup double in Moscow. But for Jonathan Woodgate’s rebounded extra-time header at Wembley for Tottenham, the Blues could have been celebrating silverware in February. But for a slip of the captain’s boot the Londoners would have been arriving home with an extra, shiny piece of luggage on their plane and a place in history. To go so close on so many occasions and still end the season empty handed, will be a massive blow for the club but with the resources they have, bouncing back is an inevitability not an impossibility.
With the season over and the tears of joy and pain on the cheeks of Ronaldo and Terry cast into the memories of a generation, the football world continues to spin. The summer looms large and questions loom even larger. Will Blue’s boss Avram Grant still be manager next season? Will record breaking Ryan Giggs hang up his boots whilst at the top of the game? Was Drogba’s petulant slap on Vidic and subsequent sending off the last thing he ever does in a Chelsea shirt? Is Lampard off to Inter Milan to join up with the familiar face of Jose Mourinho? Only time will tell on all of these issues. The European Championships in Austria and Switzerland are likely to cause huge ripples in the transfer market over the coming months. With exciting players like Luka Modric, who signed for Spurs this month, already guaranteed a Premiership bow, it seems the shores of Old Blighty is the place to be right now in Planet Football and after Wednesday's spectacular and passionate finale, who could argue otherwise?