The die is cast. The biggest show-piece of European football on display. Chelsea locking horns with country home team and Pep Guardiola’s newly-crowned English Premiership King Manchester City at Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal on Saturday in what promises to be a gritting duel or All-English el clasico UEFA Champions League Final involving two English teams that have pulled off the greatest football upset this season. The match was earlier scheduled to be held at Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium but the said venue was later changed by UEFA owing to COVID-19 restrictions in Istanbul. Interestingly this is the 4th All-English UEFA Champions League final (the first was in 1972 when Tottenham defeated Wolves 3-2 on aggregate over two legs to become Champions).
When it comes to football there is no idle moment. No boredom either, instead all suspense, all emotional drills, all betting. Football is the new opium. And for us in Nigeria experiencing the worst period in our history at this moment we should turn to football for consolation. Instead of focusing on the serial killings, plane crashes, serial kidnaps, serial misrule of our country and other tragedies and negativities in our country let us seek and find alibi in football. Replace football with food any day any time and most football fanatics across the world will prefer football to food. I know a family man who denies his family food whenever his favourite football team loses a football match. Any time a heated argument ensues in any part of my house I am always certain it is a football argument. In market places, beer parlours, in public buses, at town hall meetings, weddings, even in churches, the subject matter of discourse is football. Just yesterday two Okada riders pulled up by the road side and started what appeared like a fight. Guess what the “fight” was all about? Chelsea V Man City. While the shorter Okada rider was pushing his fellow taller Okada rider with his two hands in bid to press home his point that Man City would win the UEFA Champions League Trophy on Saturday, his colleague was resisting and insisting that Chelsea must win on Saturday. A mother of a J.S.S 1 student once complained to me that whereas her son knew by heart the names and salaries of all the football players playing in the English Premiership but the boy could not pass his exams in school. “If this my son crams Mathematics the way he crams the names of English footballers he will take first in Mathematics and other subjects in his class”, he complained to me.
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I appreciate the feeling of this concerned mother towards her football-loving son but the truth of the matter is that football is intoxicating. I can’t remember now the name of the atheist who once said that if football was played in heaven he would have become a Christian in order to go to heaven and watch football matches. So football is life as much as it is fun. 22 men running after a roundish leather object within a demarcated land space yet the drama is producing so much thrills and frills to the heart content of many football lovers. Arguably the most-fancied English team in Nigeria, Chelsea at the moment is top menu in many Nigerian dishes. There is a Chelsea cow “worshiped” by some idle Chelsea fans somewhere at Ojuelegba Lagos. Whenever Chelsea is playing an important match the cow is draped in a Chelsea jersey and forced to trot the streets escorted by die-hard Chelsea fans who keep on shouting and hailing Chelsea to high heavens. Trust that many Chelsea fans at the moment are going about boasting that Chelsea would be crowned winner of the 2021 UEFA Champions League on Saturday.
They may be right. After all Chelsea’s new Manager Thomas Tuchel has become such a good replacement for Frank Lampard. He has successfully led the Blues into the FA Cup final and now the UEFA Champions League final. Tuchel wants to make a big statement by winning the Champions League even though he has lost N’Golo Kante and Kai Havertz to hamstring injuries. Like Barcelona, Chelsea is good at creating chances around their opponent’s eighteen. And if they succeed on Saturday in re-enacting their creative football around Man City eighteen they will likely win the 2021 UEFA Champions League title. In 2008 Blues players such as Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Anelka were in their twilight and in the best of football forms. But in 2021 we are witnessing finest Chelsea players such as Thiago Silva, Rüdiger; Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Kanté, Chilwell; Havertz, Werner. R. James, Mount and others. This is not to say that it is already a done deal for Chelsea. No. Not yet Uhuru for Chelsea. Come Saturday the Blues will be playing a very strong Man City side that will have the services of Rúben Dias, Zinchenko; Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Sterling, Ferran Torres, Kevin De Bruyne (KDB), B .Mendy, A. Laporte, Foden and others. For one thing, if Chelsea manages to clinch the Champions League trophy on Saturday it is not unlikely that 2021 English Premiership highest scorer Harry Kane (22 goals to his kitting this season), who has just quit Tottenham, might join Chelsea for next season. Speculation is rife that Chelsea is poaching Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. Chelsea, we gather, is also going for Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and 21-year-old Wolfsburg defender Maxence Lacroix. If Chelsea manages to grab the aforementioned star players, be sure that we would be seeing a star-studded Chelsea that would be very difficult to defeat next season.
For Manchester City, they certainly have a date with history on Saturday. Come Saturday they will be playing their first ever UEFA Champions League final since the UEFA Champions League was created in 1956. So it is a do or die battle for Man City on Saturday. It is common knowledge that game master strategist Pep Guardiola does not lose crucial football matches. So I don’t think he would lose on Saturday. A cheeky friend of mine said that Pep Guardiola would prefer to die rather than lose to Chelsea on Saturday. It is noteworthy that Man City has put up an impressive performance this season. In the English Premiership League they won an outstanding 21-game winning streak which opened up a large gap over their rivals. In the Champions League they outclassed trophy favourites PSG. So who is Chelsea to stop Man City on Saturday? Man City will be approaching Saturday’s final with much confidence and superiority complex. Midfield maestro K. De Bruyne will be leading the Man City attack supported by Bernardo Silva, Gündoğan (if he recovers from his injury before Saturday) Mahrez, Foden, Segio Aguero (who is quitting Man City this season and joining Messi in Barcelona on the assumption that Messi, whose contract ends in June, eventually stays in Barcelona) with Fernandinho occasionally overlapping from the rear to tear the Chelsea defence apart. So Pep Guardiola’s dream of winning the treble this season may come to fruition on Saturday. After winning the English Premiership League he said that it was not yet celebration time because Man City was very focused on the Champions League.
So who wins the 66th UEFA Champions League title? Will Man City break the jinks and win their first ever European glory or would they have to wait for another year? Your guess is as good as mine. Mind you, Man City is still nursing the grudge of their defeat by Chelsea on May 8 2021, a match which Chelsea struggled to score a last minute goal and win to ensure that Man City is delayed a little longer before clinching the Premier League title. Aguero missed a penalty in that match. Consequently Man City will be on a revengeful mission on Saturday not only to win the UEFA Champions League title for the first time but to prove their mettle against Chelsea, their arch-rival. I tip Man City.