Throwback Thursday. Chelsea 2012: The very African UCL win

It’s been more than nine years since that magical night in Munich where Chelsea overcame all the odds to win their first ever UCL title. It has become the reference fairytale story for Chelsea fans since then. “If this happened in 2012 when we won the UCL, and it’s happening now, then we can win the UCL  now”. Who can blame them when they remember the story and the feelings that came with their first ever title? 

In all of Chelsea’s heroes on the night and the tournament as a whole, nobody can forget the contributions of Chelsea’s African stars in particular in clinching their maiden crown. Chelsea had four African stars in their 2012 team, at the time, the most in a UCL winning squad overshadowing Barcelona’s 2009 and Inter Milan’s 2010 squads who had three African players.

This run to the title was so sweet to the eyes because, for most of the 2011/2012 season, there seemed no plausible reason why it should have happened in the first place and it almost did not. 

An internal crisis had rocked Chelsea and they had been turning out results fit for a team that would be satisfied with a mid-table finish after a strong relegation fight and that simply isn’t who Chelsea are. Changes needed to be made. After players and manager had been at loggerheads for months over playing time, rotation, and respect, the decision to sack manager Andre Villas-Boas had to be made. A good manager in his own stead with a huge reputation following a UEFA Cup win with Porto, Villas-Boas was unable to stamp his authority on the team and found himself unable to win over the movers and shakers of the dressing room. 

“The communication was not right. From the start of this season, I was one of the key players in the team. But there were a few rotations early on and it was difficult. “You think you have played well in a game and the manager then leaves you out. You don’t know the reason why. Things like this went on through everyone’s head and not just mine”

John Obi Mikel

The communication was so wrong that it affected results and by the time Villas-Boas was sacked, Chelsea had one leg out of the Champions League. A 3-1 first leg loss against Napoli was not the last straw that broke the Camel’s back but it was certainly the heaviest. 

Out went Villas-Boas and in came Chelsea icon Roberto Di Matteo who had had a special career with the blues as a player and had served as an assistant manager before being hired as an interim first team manager. 

Before the second leg of the Napoli tie, the Chelsea players had a heart-to-heart that changed their season. 

“the Manager had been sacked by the club and we, the players had a team meeting where we recognised being partly responsible for his departure. The captain John Terry spoke, Frank Lampard Petr Cech, and other leaders in the group too.” 

Didier Drogba via Twitter

We decided to all give this competition everything, despite our defeat 4-1 against Napoli. We had been chasing this trophy for eight years and couldn’t do better than runner up. Everyone agreed to put egos aside and challenge each over for the same goal.

After that meeting, Chelsea headed into the game against Napoli with a lot of belief but still slim chances of making it through to the next round. They needed to win by two clear goals if Napoli did not score and three clear goals if Napoli did. 

With the game nearing the half-hour mark, it was Didier Drogba who started Chelsea’s comeback with a powerful header to give them a 1-0 lead. Two minutes after the start of the second half, John Terry made it 2-0 and they were on their way to the Quarterfinal. 

Drogba powers home a header to start Chelsea’s comeback

Chelsea were able to call on the experience of Ghanaian Michael Essien for the second leg. After months of rehabilitation from a cruciate ligament injury, Essien made his first start in the UCL and played for the duration of the game, making a telling contribution to the midfield, shutting down as many Napoli attacks as he could. Unfortunately, he missed one and with the hour mark approaching, Chelsea’s defense was breached.

A Napoli goal swung the tie back in their favour and meant that Chelsea now needed to score twice or at least once to take the game to extra time and with 15 minutes left in the game, Chelsea were awarded a penalty which Frank Lampard duly converted to send the game into extra time. The game still wasn’t won and Chelsea still needing to score in extra time to win, Drogba pivoted to beat his marker to byline and sent a cross into the area which Branislav Ivanovic powered in to send Chelsea into the second round. 

At the start of the 2011/2012 season, Salomon Kalou, a graduate of Ivory Coast’s famed MimoSifcom academy was entering his sixth and final season with Chelsea and was badly struggling for game time, but in the Quarterfinal first leg against Benfica, he was given the nod to start and scored a vital away goal, meeting Fernando Torres’ perfect cross with an outstretched leg to give The Blues a 1-0 win in a game where they had been put under pressure by their hosts for most of the match. 

Salomon Kalou scores Chelsea’s winner against Benfica

They survived nervy moments in the second leg but pulled through with a 2-1 win to send them into the semifinal against Barcelona who were the defending champions and had scored 13 goals in four knockout games, conceding only three. 

This was supposed to be the end of the road for Chelsea, there was no hope, not with Barcelona looking to be the first team to win back-to-back UCL titles, not with the form Lionel Messi was in. There simply should have been no chance for Chelsea, but after surviving an onslaught of Barcelona attacks at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea took the lead two minutes into first half stoppage time through none other than Drogba as he met Ramires’ cross at the far post to give Chelsea a slender first leg win. 

Essien’s stellar game against Napoli turned out to be his last for Chelsea in the Champions League that season partly due to more fitness issues and also due to the phenomenal form of John Obi Mikel who had braved the kidnap of his father at the start of the season and a lack of belief from his previous manager to have an end to the season that is worth its own separate story.

Mikel Obi celebrates Chelsea’s semifinal win over Barcelona

He played every minute from the Quarterfinal against Benfica until the final against Bayern and was exemplary as he shut down attack after attack putting in a superb shift in the final finishing with the most tackles, most interceptions, and third most passes into the final third. While under immense Barcelona pressure in the second leg of the Semifinal, it was his long punt from within his own area that released Fernando Torres to run the length of Barcelona’s half and score to put Chelsea certainly in the final against Bayern Munich. 

Bayern had not only been impressive in the Champions League leading up to the final, but they had the extra motivation of trying to win the trophy on home soil with the final being played at their home stadium. 

Chelsea went into the final playing against one of the teams held in the highest regard at the time and also against a sea of red supporters cheering for Bayern. Again, it made sense that Chelsea who had barely gotten past Napoli a few months prior should win but again, they did exactly that. 

There were many times during the season where Chelsea coils have been forgiven for giving up on their quest to win the Champions League in 2012, but none of them were as seemingly irredeemable as when they conceded an 83rd minute against Bayern in the final. It looked so improbable that Chelsea would be able to recover, that Drogba was ready to give up.

“on my way to kick the ball for the last 8 minutes I was so discouraged, the young man (Juan Mata) said to me “believe Didi, you have to believe”, almost in tears, I answered after looking at the time score “believe in what? It’s almost over, I’m gonna cry like a few months ago when I lost the final with Côte d’Ivoire.”

Didier Drogba

Drogba did cry that night, but not as he had done with Côte d’Ivoire, this time, he cried tears of joy. 

“Last minute, last corner, I mean the first corner for us against eighteen for Bayern Munich, (I scored). Guess who took that corner kick.. Juan Mata”. 

Didier Drogba

Drogba scored to equalise and give Chelsea a chance in extra time and after that was over, the game went to penalties. With the tie delicately poised at 3-3, Bastian Schweinsteiger missed Bayern’s fifth penalty giving Chelsea the chance to win if they could score their fifth penalty, and wouldn’t you know it, it was none other than Drogba who stepped up amidst almost near silence only disturbed by gasps and prayers from the fans and players to slot in the winner and give Chelsea their first ever UEFA Champions title.

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