Champions league final: Roman rule

After nine years with Abramovich as owner, and after eight managers, an outlay of £700million in transfer fees and an estimated £2billion overall, Chelsea interim boss Di Matteo vows the Blues will conquer Europe

Ben Rumsby

Didier Drogba was forced to deny he was an "actor" as he prepared for what could be his Chelsea curtain call on the biggest stage of all this evening, and Roberto Di Matteo has promised the Blues long European odyssey will finally end in glory for Roman Abramovich.

Drogba insisted Chelsea had not blown their chance of convincing him to sign a contract extension after tonight's Champions League final, saying he was prepared to listen to any new offer they made.

The striker otherwise refused to let speculation about his future distract him from his bid to finally achieve the Blue's and his dream of European glory.

That was not the only sideshow Drogba had to face at the pre-match press conference after Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes earlier appeared to hit out at his reputation for play-acting.

Heynckes claimed the 34-year-old sometimes "overdoes it a bit", adding: "Sometimes he's an outstanding actor on the pitch."

Bayern later moved to claim their manager was mistranslated, insisting the word "actor" should have been "performer".

But the damage was done and pressed whether he was indeed an actor, Drogba said: "Oh, no, I don't think so. No, no, no."

Drogba has spent all season dodging questions about his future since snubbing Chelsea's offer of a one-year contract extension in a bid to secure a new two-year deal.

Yesterday was no different, although he did confirm he would take up chief executive Ron Gourlay's invitation to sit down at the end of the season in an 11th-hour attempt to reach an agreement.

"We'll sit down with him and we're going to talk," said Drogba, who refused to criticise the club for failing to make him an offer he could not refuse. "I don't think about this. Tomorrow's game is so important.

"My future, my contract, are not important. I want to give everything to the team and the fans. From there, we'll see what happens."

Drogba has been linked with no end of clubs from across the globe, with even Barcelona reportedly interested in what would be a free transfer. "There are a lot of rumours about me being offered to Barcelona," Drogba said. "It's not true. It's not true. The kind of moment I'm living now, the excitement of a big Champions League final game is more important than thinking about Barcelona approaching me. Now we'll do everything to win."

For Drogba, that will also mean avoiding the loss of control that saw him sent off in Chelsea's only previous final four years ago, when the team lost on penalties to Manchester United.

"It was a difficult moment for me and for the club as well," he said. "I apologised to the fans. It's one memory I cannot forget but, at the same time, it's the past. It was a good experience, a first Champions League final for Chelsea -- an experience. Now I think we've learned from that."

Moscow was one of seven Champions League failures for Drogba since joining Chelsea. "I'm lucky to be playing Champions League games," he said. "When I was young, I used to watch the games on TV, when Zidane scored that volley against (Bayer) Leverkusen -- all these games.

"Every Champions League game is special for me. Every time I come on the pitch, I feel lucky because I'm one of the few players able to play these kind of games.

"The Champions League doesn't really owe me anything.

"If I'm responsible for something, it's my club, my team-mates and the fans. I play for them. I have to perform for them."

Whatever happens, Drogba's place in Chelsea folklore is assured, according to caretaker manager Di Matteo. "He's brought Premier League trophies and cup competitions to us, scored many goals," Di Matteo said. "So, whatever happens tomorrow, he will be remembered as a legend at this club."

Di Matteo has promised Abramovich his Champions League journey will eventually reach its glorious destination. For the second time in Abramovich's nine years as owner, and after eight managers, an outlay of £700million in transfer fees and an estimated £2billion overall, Chelsea will contest the most important club game on the planet tonight.

The lure of the Champions League is what brought the Russian billionaire to Stamford Bridge, his hunger to win it has arguably cost half a dozen managers their jobs. Now Di Matteo finds himself in the bizarre position of knowing victory over Bayern may not save him the axe either.

"We can win it," said Di Matteo. "We have to believe and have the confidence to do so. I don't know how somebody else feels. I can only guess he (Abramovich) is excited. Sooner or later it will come. We hope it's tomorrow. But with the quality that's been at this club before and will certainly come into this club again, it will happen."

The 68th richest person in the world, according to Forbes, Abramovich's Champions League history is scarred by ill fortune.

Luis Garcia's ghost goal for Liverpool in 2005, John Terry slipping as he lined up the penalty that would have secured victory over Manchester United in 2008, Andres Iniesta scoring a semi-final winner for Barcelona in injury-time 12 months later.


No amount of money can ease the pain of being kept apart from that elusive prize. Di Matteo cannot afford to get sucked into the emotion. "You make your own destiny and fate," he said. "Reaching the last stages of this competition is difficult enough and you always need a bit of luck in a cup competition."

Chelsea's fortune came in the acceptance of Di Matteo to take charge on an interim basis following the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas at the beginning of March.

It has been suggested that the decision to make a change followed expressions of discontent from senior players. However the conclusion was reached, it worked. Chelsea are reliant on winning the final in order to qualify for next season's Champions League.

The mere fact they have that chance, having lifted the FA Cup a fortnight ago, is confirmation Di Matteo not only stabilised the situation but managed to get the Chelsea ship moving forward again, thanks chiefly to a memorable night against Napoli in a last-16 tie that, under Villas-Boas' watch, appeared to have drifted out of reach.


Chelsea will have to win it without inspirational skipper John Terry, who is suspended, along with Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic.

Thankfully for Di Matteo, David Luiz and Gary Cahill have recovered from their respective hamstring injuries.

So now Di Matteo, who spent six seasons with the Blues as a player, will try to engineer the best day of Abramovich's footballing life and Chelsea's entire history.

"You can see his importance in the results," said Lampard. "Roberto has been very clever managing the situation. We were struggling for confidence and rather than come in and make drastic changes, he spoke to everyone individually and created confidence in the group. We got wins -- the Napoli game changed everything -- and from then on quietly he's done a perfect job. If anyone deserves to win this game, it's him."