On the 19th of May 2012, Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time in their history, sending their fans world over in delirious frenzy. After years of heartbreak and near misses – arguably coming closer than any other team in the last decade to ‘THE’ trophy – they made their last hurrah at a time when everybody was willing to write them off, rising one last time to grab the trophy that seemed to be the ‘The one that got away’. However, this incredible success should not mean that the club takes success for granted and so far, it certainly hasn’t been the case. Nobody knows what the future holds, but for now the club looks to be heading in the right direction.
Last season’s remarkable triumph is surely a milestone in what has been a remarkable, topsy-turvy, joyous, successful and at times excruciatingly painful journey. A brief look at the club’s history suggests that the club enjoyed decent success in the 50’s or 70’s or the late 90’s, while suffering the scars of relegation in 1983, but was never what one would describe as a ‘Big Club’. The club’s golden era began only with the advent of Roman Abramovich’s revolution and it was the time when Chelsea gradually started to be recognized the world over.
Before 2003, Chelsea were a team brimming with potential and just waiting in the wings to make it to the top four, waiting for some inspiration, some push to propel them from probables to contenders, from a team with swagger to a team playing to win, which came in the form of Abramovich’s finances and a certain Jose Mourinho. Surely, that burst forward would not have been possible without the owner and that did not go down well with other clubs and fans. The traditional ‘Big Clubs’ were far from impressed, especially the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.
However, the jeers of being a ‘small club’ and ‘ having no ‘istory ’ would do very little to halt the march to glory. Under Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea would reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in their history and finish 2nd in the premier league only behind the incredible ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal. Next season, the charismatic Jose Mourinho would arrive at Stamford Bridge and lead Chelsea to back to back Premier League titles, one FA cup and two League Cup titles. However his third season, which would eventually turn out to be his last complete season with Chelsea, would be the defining season in terms of that ‘coming of age’, a certain winning mentality that would go on to define the club in the coming years and be the definitive factor in a certain remarkable triumph years later.
It is said, with a certain degree of merit to it, that it is the defeats that shape and reveal character more than victories do. Winning back to back league titles was a big achievement and the prospect of defeat, though well confronted on the European stage, was well distant on the domestic front for the fact that Chelsea had been the most consistent and dominant teams in the league for the past two years. So, when at last injuries confronted the squad, with Petr Cech out for a major part of the season to a life threatening injury and John Terry missing several games in the course of the season, Chelsea came back to the harsh reality. It could be argued that with Chelsea’ finances and squad depth, injuries are not an excuse but to lose two of the club’s mainstays and expect substitutes to gel-in immediately and produce an impact like John Terry of all players, was a bit too much.
From that point on, entire season was a race to catch up with Man United, who were surging ahead on the shoulders of the brilliant Christiano Ronaldo. But the most endearing aspect of the season to the fans was the dogged spirit of the team. As mentioned, the entire season was a race to catch up with someone or the other, and for once the prospect of defeat loomed large on the domestic front. And that entire season of efforts culminated in that one game when the title was given up, but a new mentality had been won.
6th May 2007. It’s just 3 games to go before another gruelling English Premier League season comes to an end. The team has an unenviable task of overtaking another team 8 points ahead of them, only 5 days after getting knocked out of Champions league semi-final in a heartbreaking and gut wrenching fashion yet again by Liverpool, a club with great ‘istory and tradition, apparently stretching back to pre-historic times . That is up for debate however. Back to the game, only a win would ensure that the fight would ensue for another week. And even then the prospect of winning the title would be as bleak as you would imagine.
At the stroke of half time they are a man down and a goal down, to a successfully converted penalty by Giberto Silva. An already mighty difficult task looks an impossible one now. The fact that Premier League was as good as lost even if the game was won, as bleak as that might have seemed, might have disheartened a team that was down to 10 men. But the manager won’t have it, the players won’t have it.
Henceforth, began an extraordinary second half, wherein every player put in everything they had got. Drogba was out injured, but Frank Lampard and John terry led from the front, putting in lung bursting runs and making tackles all over the field. Chelsea equalised through a diving Michael Essien header but could not pull off the ‘impossible’. Putting in a performance worthy of Champions, they managed to earn a draw. But the failure to win meant the premier league title went to Manchester United, a week before the end of the season. Trying, probing and pushing for a winner till the very last moment, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea quite simply did not give up that season.
The Arsenal fans sang ‘Liverpool’ and happily celebrated Manchester United winning the Premier League in-front of the Chelsea support at the Emirates Stadium. Jose Mourinho famously took it on the chin, asking the fans to keep their heads up at the end of what had been a remarkable season, which in fact would go on to have one final cheer for them (Chelsea would go on to win the FA Cup Final at the expense of Manchester United). However, It would be a rather less than poetic end to an extraordinary spell of three years when Jose would leave Chelsea in early stages of next season. But he would leave behind a group of players with a winning mentality deeply ingrained in them at the end of a season with remarkable exploits.
Although Chelsea had totally dominated English football for two years, sweeping aside everything except the Champions League, some of the seeds of those remarkable triumphs in Barcelona and Munich were sown only during the course of that remarkable season and especially on that day. As Jose Mourinho said in the post match conference, “Chelsea fans should cherish this moment. It is not a happy moment, but it is a moment of Pride”.
Five years later, on one of the most important nights in the rather not so glorious ‘history’ of Chelsea football club, the players would be confronted with an even more monumental and seemingly impossible task in the cauldron like atmosphere of Camp Nou, in many ways similar to the one faced all those years ago. But the pride and the winning spirit earned that day would guide the team through to a remarkable triumph. Led by the same core group of players, it is hard to imagine if the same success would’ve been achieved had it not been for experience and psychological strength, earned on days like the 6/5/07.
There is perhaps no precise way to pin-point when a club makes that transition from being ‘one of many’ to ‘one of the few’. But on that day at the Emirates Stadium, fighting for an unlikely win in a hostile environment, with all the odds stacked against them, they dusted themselves up and put in a champions’ performance. And in the process, they had earned their stripes. The rest as they say, is History (pun intended).
Written by Guest Author Shivam Chaturvedi