Sunday, 20 May 2012

Champions League: The miracle of Bayern and the consequences of Chelsea's win in London and Munich

Chelsea's penalty shoot out victory in Saturday's Champions League Final over Bayern Munich changes the football landscape slightly in those two great footballing cities.

On Sunday morning the people of London awoke in the knowledge that at long last, their city had a Football European Champion. At least, the ones who take and interest in football.

The news will of course be greeted with mixed emotions, depending on whereabouts in London you come from but it is worth noting that the capital city, despite appearances at times, is a hotbed of the game and boasts  fourteen professional league clubs from Dagenham to Brentford and Barnet to Crystal Palace. The fact the none of them, up to now, have one the ultimate prize in club football has been a matter of minor embarrassment for those who take an interest in regional rivalries in England.

The fact that it is Chelsea are first to win the European Cup, will dent the pride of some supporters of the larger clubs in the capital. Arsenal, for years, have claimed the status of top dogs with their history of success in domestic league and cup competitions. Together with their local rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, north London has been seen as the epicentre of the game in the city, at least in the minds of north Londoners. Chelsea, in the west, like West Ham in the east, have had their fair share of good times but it was only after the arrival of Roman Abramovitch that the balance of power genuinely shifted.

The Blues' Mourinho inspired dominance of the Premier League in the middle of the last decade introduced Chelsea as a major player in England in the same way that Manchester City are doing so now. But with the name "Chelsea FC"  freshly engraved on the Champions League Trophy, few can successfully argue with the claim of the club and their supporters that they are London's top dogs: the first and so far only winners of the Champions League.

That the victory was achieved in the most unlikely circumstances only contributes to the narrative. In Germany they refer to their national team's World Cup win against Hungary on 1954, as the Miracle of Bern. Fritz Walter and his players were considered rank outsiders against Puskas and the Magnificent Magyars yet they prevailed. On Saturday, Chelsea celebrated their own miracle of Bayern.

As for the Bavarian club, the result is a disaster. This is one of the best Bayern Munich teams ever to be assembled. Despite their apparent defensive frailties, there is no other team in the Bundesliga that conceded fewer goals this season. The club boasted the second top scorer in Mario Gomez who scored twenty six goals in the league and thirteen in the Champions League. In any other year, not only would they have won the German League and Cup but gone on to win the Champions League Final against a Chelsea side that, by common consent, had ridden their luck so far in the competition and were missing key players. Unfortunately, for them, this was the domestic season in which, as good as Bayern were, Borussia Dortmund were better. So with the entire campaign resting on their "Day of Destiny" as Sky Sports called it, they were dealt a stinker of a hand by the gods of football who are always ready to punish the profligate.

After flatly refusing to take the chances they had created, Bayern were sucker punched by Didier Drogba and shot down by penalties. That is two seasons without a trophy for the Bavarians and worse still, a chance of an historic treble denied despite having one of the best teams on the continent in my humble opinion.

"Such is football" as the Bayern goal scorer, Thomas Mueller, said after the game and  few clubs understand the cruelty of this sport more than Bayern Munich. After all they have dished out enough pain and shattered more than a few dreams down their years. For them, the challenge is to restore their place at the top of the pile in Germany. They must deal with the upstarts in Dortmund and face down the jibes of the new Neverkusen after emulating Bayer Leverkusen who threw away their chance of winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and  Champions League in 2002. There maybe a few changes in Munich over the Summer.

One post script to this final is the relegation of Tottenham Hotspur to the Europa League which is another reason why not everyone in London is pleased to see the Champions League duck broken. Spurs finished fourth in the Premier League but will forfeit their Champions League qualification place and make way for Chelsea who failed to finish in the top four in the league but qualify as Champions. Something tells me that the powers that be at White Hart Lane will not accept this situation easily and already a call has been put into UEFA to see what can be done.