Didier Drogba won it with a well-taken penalty and you could basically hear the collective groan from around the world. Let’s get this straight first, though: there is nothing wrong whatsoever with Chelsea winning the Champions League. It’s their first such trophy, it was won the same way everyone else wins trophies–by winning a final–and the likes of Juan Mata, Drogba, and Solomon Kalou (to pick 3 pretty much at random) certainly deserved to win it as much as any other player in the game.
From a fairly neutral perspective–I’ve no love for either of the teams in the final and was rooting for Bayern mostly because I don’t like John Terry as a player more than I don’t like Bayern’s players–it was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen. One team wanted to play, the other wanted to go to penalties as soon as the opening whistle went off. Sometime early in the second half, Gary Neville, commentating on the channel I was watching, said that it was a fabulous game. It was, in fact, the exact opposite of that. Chelsea were sitting deep and kicking the ball as far as they could in hopes that Drogba would either get on the end of it and score a solo goal or at least make Bayern reset their offense and come through bank-upon-bank of defenders. Parking the bus, in short, and hoping for a goal against the run of play. Bayern didn’t score (somehow) and we were back in that situation where Chelsea were maybe going to run out winners because their opponent screwed up rather than because any actual outplaying came from the CFC side.
Tweeting after the match, I asked the twitheads out there whether it was the worst CL final ever or if that was just my boredom from one day overwhelming my memory of past encounters. The reply was pretty unanimous: it’s at least the worst final since the last time Chelsea was in it (that’s 2008, fyi). I cited the Juventus-Milan match from 2003, which I remember as a decidedly dull game (0-0 after 120 minutes). I have little faith in my memories before that (did I even see Bayern-Valencia in 2000? I can’t recall it at all), so I can’t cite anything else.
I’m sad I didn’t make good on my promise to not watch the final. I happened to be invited to a party that I wanted to attend so I could see everyone who would be there and I happened to finish what I was doing before that just in time to go for the game. In retrospect, I saw it coming. I knew not to go. I knew to do something else outside in the gorgeous weather. I knew to go day drinking and get text updates from friends bored out of their minds wherever they chose to watch it. And that’s an awful feeling. I wasn’t a fan of the Bayern-Inter match in 2010, but that was at least something of a interesting match to watch.
Mourinho’s teams may not be my cup of tea, but they’re at least capable of playing fluid football when called upon to do so. They’re not always called upon to do so, such as last year’s Madrid team when facing Barça (I mean 2010-11), but they, Inter, and even Chelsea under Jose were capable of passing, attacking nicely, and creating a host of chances while remaining defensively solid. This year’s Chelsea, on the other hand, while containing a slew of players capable of doing exactly that, was under strict orders to look like crap.
In the end, it doesn’t much matter whether it was a Champions League final or a Division 18 league match between Joe’s Pub and Bill’s Bikes. It was boring. But that brings up the question of whether I’m not just a spoiled FCBrat; are we, the products of the last few years of Guardiola’s Tiki-Taka Revolution, simply holding everyone to a standard that can’t be met without €300m in transfer fees each year or an academy that has gone perilously close to establishing itself as a local religious institution?
My response would be Swansea, first and foremost. Real Betis springs to mind as well. No, they didn’t win anything this year, but they stayed up and looked excellent while doing so. More than can be said for Blackburn or Villarreal. My response would also be the difference between Montpellier and PSG (the factoid of the moment is that Javier Pastore cost more than all of Montpellier put together). Bayern were not swashbuckling attackers throughout the year, but they were at least adventurous against Real Madrid and Chelsea. Napoli may be counterattack-oriented, but they do it with some style; they beat Juventus 2-0 today with a very nice Hamsik goal. Benfica too was fun in the CL. I won’t act like I watch enough other teams to really know, but there are definitely teams out there that are enjoyable for neutrals (my team could probably line up with players from my co-ed league in a 10-0-0 and I’d cheer vociferously for them) and that’s reassuring.
Manchester City have often been fairly enjoyable this past season and they ended up winning the title (and how!), which is nice in a lot of ways. I’ll probably always support Arsenal in neutral games simply because they’ve tried to stick to their free-flowing guns as much as possible (and shot Wenger in the foot repeatedly with financial decisions related to their stadium); Athletic Bilbao made the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals with a pleasing-to-the-eye style that, from all accounts, is about as physically taxing as you can get.
Chelsea plays the footballing equivalent of rope-a-dope, not some “manly,” back-breaking style that can only be emulated by means of tough resolve and total fearlessness in the face of certain doom. They’re defensively gifted and incredibly capable of concentration; in short, they’re good footballers. But like rope-a-dope fighters, I find them boring. I find them to squeeze the life out of a game and that is precisely the opposite of why I watch. Winning, to me, isn’t everything—I want Barça to win, but I want them to win by being better, by not sitting back and employing a very talented forward as nothing but the steel point to a battering ram. And when I’m not even remotely interested in who wins the game, it matters all the more how they go about winning it. Chelsea isn’t anti-football by any means; they’re simply boring football.
Congratulations to them and congratulations to their fans, who have waited literally for their entire fan lives for a CL trophy. Kudos and may your next one be a better game for us neutrals.