Without that success, there would have been no midweek appointment with
Juventus in the Champions League; for
Indeed, the manager Roberto Di Matteo revealed on Tuesday, neither would Eden Hazard have arrived, nor Oscar nor the near £50 million-plus estimated net transfer expenditure Chelsea indulged in during the summer.
“The most important thing was not that we won the Champions League but that it qualified us for the competition again this year,” Di Matteo admitted.
“It would have been very difficult [to convince players to sign] because they want to be involved in the biggest club competition in the world so it would have been extremely difficult to attract these players.”
What perhaps those players did not realise upon joining the European champions is that their chances of winning the tournament this season are statistically much reduced.
Not since Marco van Basten’s Milan successfully defended their European Cup trophy in 1990 has any club retained it. Never has it been done in its current guise as the Champions League.
“It has proved impossible in the past,” said Di Matteo before adding the Panglossian perspective that is one of his hallmarks: “but we want to achieve the impossible.”
It is one of the curious paradoxes of this knockout competition that clubs in apparent decline can conquer it. There is no question that, with Didier Drogba — the iconic signing of Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho era — heading the list of those preparing to quit the club, Chelsea were approaching the end of a cycle. Even Gianluigi Buffon recognised it.
“Before Chelsea won the Champions League, in previous years they were always a team to beat and then they failed,” assessed the Juventus captain. “But when they started struggling, when they were in a declining phase, they won the Champions League.
“What’s beautiful about football is that it’s not always the strongest team, the one you expect to win, who wins.” Lucky, lucky Chelsea then? Jon Obi Mikel does not strenuously deny it.
The midfielder might consider himself fortunate for, with that win last May, he could remain in the Chelsea squad when he might otherwise have been swept out of it had a new broom replaced Di Matteo.
And the Nigerian did concede there was a touch of good fortune to that Champions League victory. But he believes the romance of Chelsea’s Sliding Doors story will also have a practical impact this season.
“Yeah, we were kind of lucky but this season is a different story,” he said. “We’ve brought in new players to help us in this campaign to help us play good football, win games and help us to the final again.
“You need luck in everything you do. It wasn’t just luck that saw us through. We had ten men in Barcelona and you saw how determined we were, how much we wanted it.
“We worked very hard for it. When people say we were lucky actually it’s not true. We worked very hard for everything we achieved last season.”
The work begins from scratch again now and Di Matteo perhaps modestly considers the principal objective to be emergence from the group stage. Standing in the way of Chelsea is the graceful figure of Andrea Pirlo, the heartbeat of the 'Old Lady', and a player Mikel looks up to.
“Pirlo is a great player,” he said. “We all saw what he did at the Euros. He’s been in the game a long time and he’s a legend.
“Playing against a legend like Pirlo will be great but I also want to win. It will be a battle whatever happens. I respect him as a player but I want to beat him and hopefully I can learn something from him.”
Di Matteo, a Switzerland-born Italian, could applaud what he did at the European Championship this summer in destroying one English team, but is determined to stop him doing so again. “He had a fantastic tournament for Italy in the Euros,” said Di Matteo.
“He’s a talented player and since his switch to Juventus, he’s shown again, he’s an extremely great player we’ll have to be careful about him.
“He ’s not the only player, but obviously he’s a very important player for them and dicates a little bit their game so we will certainly have to make sure we control him, that’s for sure.” If not, it could portend that Chelsea’s reign over Europe will be as shortlived as so many others.