Proof of John Terry’s stupidity arrived in the 37th minute of Chelsea’s improbable victory at Camp Nou, and the not-so-sly foul on Alexis Sánchez represented an open and shut case. Proof that the erstwhile England captain is even more stupid than the TV replays made him look, and furthermore thinks the rest of the world is stupid too, came in via an unbelievably trite apology.
“I’m not that type of player to intentionally hurt anyone,” Terry said, with a lofty disregard for the established manner in which this particular defence tends to immediately rebound on the culprit. “I’ve raised my knee, which maybe I shouldn’t have done in hindsight, but hopefully people who know me as a person know I’m not that type of player.”
There is no need to labour the point. Terry’s idiotic behaviour has cost him a place in the Champions League final and he knows – because the television pictures show – that there is nowhere to hide. The only question, apart from whether Stuart Pearce names Terry in his provisional England squad next month, is how much Terry’s absence will cost Chelsea in Munich.
On the basis of Chelsea’s staggering, and in the end swaggering, conquest of Camp Nou, the answer might be not a lot. Yet experience is a valuable commodity at the top end of European football, and with Branislav Ivanovic also suspended, David Luiz and Gary Cahill will not only have to return to full fitness but keep their wits about them for the full 90 minutes.
It seems a tall order just got taller, but Chelsea probably feel they could tackle anything at the moment and if they can take that unshakeable confidence into the final they must have a chance. As Gary Neville kept saying in his television commentary, some things are just written in the stars.
What a load of baloney. I can’t believe I have written that. What would the stars have had to say if Leo Messi had scored from the penalty spot, or are we to believe extraterrestrial forces were at work in keeping the ball out? Yet on some nights the force is definitely with you, and Didier Drogba helping out at right-back against Barcelona was reminiscent of Steven Gerrard doing the same thing for Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005.
Now that was a game when you could easily suspect that supernatural forces were involved, in fact Liverpool’s whole Champions League campaign that year was one unlikely win after another. That was the season Everton finished fourth, above Liverpool, and all through the Champions League stages people kept asking what would happen if Everton were to claim a Champions League place but Liverpool won the tournament.
The answer was very slow in coming, because few imagined Liverpool would get past Juventus and then Chelsea in the later stages, and no one who saw the first half against Milan in Istanbul expected anything other than an embarrassing final score in favour of Carlo Ancelotti’s team. Once Liverpool did win the trophy, the organisers had to make a temporary fudge to allow both Merseyside teams to go forward, before coming up with the present arrangement whereby a side winning the tournament but finishing outside the qualifying positions would compete the following season at the expense of the lowest-placed league qualifier.
As everyone is aware, that scenario could easily recur this season and the victims might be Newcastle, who could find a thoroughly deserved fourth place would permit entry only to the Europa League should Chelsea win the Champions League but finish outside the top four.
Alan Pardew was making light of the matter a few days ago, when the prospect still seemed a distant one, yet now Chelsea are in the final there will be a few more people choking on their beer in the north-east.
Geordies can console themselves with the idea that a patched-up Chelsea would be no match for Jupp Heynckes’s Bayern Munich in the final, but a patched up Liverpool ought to have been put to the sword by Ancelotti’s Milan – indeed were put to the sword, in the first half – and everyone knows what happened.
Don’t worry, I am not going to repeat the tale of the Everton pub that refused to watch the 2005 final on television until they heard the half-time score and mistakenly thought they might enjoy the second half, the point is that in a final almost anything can happen if the underdogs can bring enough determination and even desperation to the fight.
That’s the theory Chelsea must cling to, though in many ways, given the history between the two clubs in recent years, the semi-final second leg at Camp Nou must have felt like a final in itself.
For Chelsea to manage another against-the-odds effort after a night like that, without Terry, Ivanovich and Ramires, might be too big an ask. One hesitates to come over all Mystic Meg or even all Gary Neville, but Chelsea may find they have used up all their cup luck for this year.
Liverpool rode their luck massively in Istanbul, but maybe their best stroke of good fortune – phantom goal in the semi against Chelsea notwithstanding – was summoning the nerve and the energy to play out of their skins in the final.
Had that been a semi-final against Milan, you would not have expected Liverpool to do much except collapse from exhaustion in the final itself.
While the fact that no club has managed back to back Champions League victories since the competition was reorganised 20 years ago is greatly to Uefa’s credit – the old system of champions only and holders being invited back regardless of their league position tended to favour self-perpetuating mini-monopolies by successful clubs but even Barcelona cannot get their noses permanently in front under the present system – playing a final on a club’s home ground is surely unnecessary for an organisation of Uefa’s power and scope.
There are other decent stadiums in Germany, after all. Maybe no one imagined Bayern would get through. Some of the things that happen in the later stages of the Champions League are quite beyond the imagination, as Chelsea know better than anyone.