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Lungile Binza
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Avoid the Valencia FC scenario!

17 May 2012, 10:17

When Chelsea FC lines up in the Champion League final against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in Munich on Saturday the 19th of May 2012, they must have a highly similar but unwanted Valencia FC scenario in mind.  It’s a scenario which Chelsea FC has to try and avoid at all costs.

Valencia were one of the most successful teams in the Champions League at the turn of the Century, having reached two successive finals, but failed to win the trophy. They reached the first Champions League final to be contested by two teams from the same country in 2000 when they were comprehensively outplayed by Real Madrid 3-0 in France. Fernando Morientes, Steve McMananan (remember him) and Raul damaging them.

But the final which was hard to swallow for them was in the following season, which was ironically against Bayern Munich, at the San Siro Staduim, Italy, in 2001. It was the final in which penalty shootouts started early. In normal regulation time, three penalties were awarded, two to Bayern Munich and one to Valencia. Gaizka Mendieta converted Valencia’s spot kick as early as the second minute before Bayern’s Mehmet Scholl missed one in the first half and Stefan Effenberg converted the other in the second half. The game ended 1-1 with penalty shootouts deciding the final where Maurizio Pellegrini’s spot kick was saved by Oliver Kahn to grant the trophy to Bayern Munich.

Valencia has never been same in the Champions League since that final against Bayern. They lost their big players to top European teams. Mendieta went to Barcelona, Claudio Lopez went to Lazio, Francisco Farinos went to Inter Milan, and Gerard also went home to Barcelona (as the Catalan media term it). It was only left with over 30 year olds in Santiago Canizares, Roberto Ayala, Amedeo Carboni, Pellegrini and Jocelyn Angloma. Only Pablo Aimar was a recognised star afterwards until he fizzled out after the 2002 World Cup disappointment only to reappear this season in Portugal.

Like Valencia, Chelsea hasn’t won the trophy and this is their second attempt. They don’t have a problem of losing their top players to any club because of their spending power and being one of the top clubs in England, but their golden generation (Cech, Cole, Terry, Lampard jr, and Drogba) are getting on the wrong side of their 30s.

Also, like Valencia, Chelsea played in their first Champions League final against a team from their own country, Manchester United, in 2008 in Russia. It was the final pitting two teams from the England for the first time in which they lost the closely contested final on penalty kicks when Terry missed that crucial spot kick after slipping on a wet surface. Again, like Valencia, their second Champions League final, is against Bayern Munich.

So they must learn from this Valencia situation. Firstly, they must avoiding losing this final as it will have huge financial implications. They have finished 6th in the EPL, 25 points behind the Manchester clubs, which means they won’t have automatic entry to the competition next season. That means no financial windfall that accompanies participation in this tournament. That would hurt as we’ve seen with Valencia and other team like Leeds United. They can take solace from the fact that the last team to reach a Champions League final which was hosted on home soil was AS Roma in 1984 who lost to Liverpool, again on penalties. Also, when Atletico Madrid win Europa/UEFA cup, Chelsea win the FA Cup, United finish 2nd, Arsenal 3rd, and Spurs 4th, Bayern tend to lose the Champions League final in those seasons. Hope that trend continues.

Secondly, the rebuilding process must continue. Good and even great players to replace the mentioned golden generation must be developed or scouted and slowly introduced into the culture of team. If the final is lost, they can mount a serious Europa League campaign where they can introduce the young and new players to the European conditions before bloodying them into the Champions League the next season.

Finally, for continuity purposes, they must keep Roberto di Matteo as the manager no matter the result. What has kept the club together in the times when Managers we changing frequently at the club was John Terry’s captaincy. Chelsea and Liverpool have been the only top clubs in England to consistently retain their captains. Now that Terry might be rested at certain games, continuity on managerial side is paramount. Di Matteo is the legend of the club and his blood is truly blue.

The Blues must go out and make the city of London proud. London has never had a Champion League winner and this might be their last chance in a long time. This is embarrassing if you consider Cities like Bucharest (Steaua Bucharest in 1986) and Belgrade (Red Star Belgrade in 1991) have tasted success in this tournament.

Good Luck to the Blues!

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