The dressing room was silent as Drogba spoke softly to the cup. This is the inside story of… Chelsea's glory
22:07 GMT, 20 May 2012
22:07 GMT, 20 May 2012
Bruce Buck compared it to a ‘religious experience’, this extraordinary scene in the Chelsea dressing room after an extraordinary Champions League final when Didier Drogba addressed the European Cup.
Not so much man-to-man as man to magnificent metal object, Drogba spoke to the trophy as if those ear-like handles could hear his every word.
Everyone else stopped. Roman Abramovich was mesmerised; Roberto Di Matteo delayed his departure for the post-match press conference. The players simply stood in awe, intent on listening to their match-winner’s speech.
The cup that cheers: Didier Drogba with the trophy
With the flag of the Ivory Coast draped across his shoulders, Drogba leapt on to a table in the centre of the dressing room.
‘Why have you avoided us for such a long time’ he said, almost berating club football’s greatest prize. ‘Flirting with us, eluding us.’
He spoke of ‘Barcelona in 2009’, of ‘Moscow’ the year before, eventually focusing on the chronology of the evening.
The prize they all wanted: Drogba addressed the Cup in the changing room after the game
Only occasionally did the other players interrupt, chanting to Drogba, to Abramovich, to the members of the Chelsea board, that they wanted their striker to stay at the club beyond this season; that his decisive penalty should not be his last act as a Chelsea player.
‘It was like he was praying to the cup,’ said Buck, the Chelsea chairman, after emerging from the team hotel on Sunday morning.
‘It was almost a religious experience. He talked about Barcelona — not this year’s Barcelona, but the previous time — and about Moscow. It really was a lot of fun.’
The big one: Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich thanked the players for winning the Champions League
Abramovich gave a speech of his own, using director Eugene Tenenbaum to translate his emotive Russian.
‘Roman gave a little thank you speech in the dressing room,’ said Buck. ‘The message was it was all down to the boys. They did it. We’ve had a tough season, a bunch of highs and lows, but they grasped it and deserved all the credit. And they do.’
Clearly a little emotional himself, Buck continued: ‘It was very difficult when Andre (Villas-Boas) left because Andre’s a really good guy. I guess we just felt it was something that had to be done and, obviously, it’s turned out correctly for us.
The one they all tried to win: Roberto Di Matteo succeeded where many Chelsea manager before him failed
‘The spirit in the dressing room after the match was unbelievable. The camaraderie; they were sitting and talking for the longest time. They didn’t get back to the hotel until almost three o’clock in the morning.’
Some of them partied all night. Buck made it to his bed but he discovered colleagues who never made it that far on Sunday morning, slumped on sofas and in armchairs around the hotel.
At the same venue on the eve of the game the atmosphere was somewhat calmer, with Di Matteo playing a motivational masterstroke that took the players by surprise.
All together: Di Matteo put together a motivational DVD with messages from family members and former Chelsea players for the squad to watch before the game
Edited beautifully, officials said, by staff at the club, Di Matteo treated his squad to a video that not only contained goodwill messages from family members but also had footage of the players from over the years, some dating back to when they were kids.
The Italian had the DVD put together in secret. It lasted less than half-an-hour but it featured every member of the squad who had a chance of playing, including Ryan Bertrand.
There were, said some of the players, a few teary eyes but it also sparked some amusing banter, removing some of the tension from the air.
Suffering: A doleful Arjen Robben with wife Bernadien after the game
Di Matteo has been clever, even when it comes to the way he deals with Chelsea’s owner. He does not divulge their private conversations, just as he does not try to apply any pressure in the media.
‘Whatever decision the club reach I will accept,’ he said. ‘My future is not important.’
The selection of Bertrand was a bold one but it was also another example of his astute management; another reason why he should be considered for the role on a permanent basis.
‘I don’t like to gamble,’ he said. ‘I see these players every day in training. I have watched him develop and every time he plays he has been one of our best players. I tried different options and that looked like the best option for the team.
‘Our preparation was difficult because of the injuries and suspensions. It was not ideal for a Champions League final. But the desire and motivation of the players has been great.’
Di Matteo would not discuss his future and there was not much he could say about Drogba’s either. But he called the striker ‘a fantastic servant for the club’ before praising others in his side.
‘Ashley Cole was immense, Frank Lampard, the whole team,’ he said. ‘Petr Cech was fantastic.’
He was, and he was also the one player who missed Drogba’s address because he was busy trying to provide the drug testers with a urine sample.
‘By the time I got to the dressing room everyone had gone,’ said Cech. As had that elusive trophy.