SEATTLE – The miracle of Munich was not just that Chelsea managed to defeat Bayern in the UEFA Champions League final after their under-strength side was dominated for most of the game. It was that an interim manager who might have left just two months earlier succeeded where so many famous coaching names had failed.
Claudio Ranieri, José Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti all fell short of transforming Chelsea from English powerhouse into European champions. Roberto Di Matteo did it in a few short, unforgettable weeks.
Two months on from the penalty-shootout win at the Allianz Arena, he’s still stunned by the scale of the achievement. And the former assistant coach is deeply grateful that Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, gave him the chance to take charge after the departure of André Villas-Boas.
Di Matteo still can’t quite figure out how Chelsea became kings of a continent – even ousting Barcelona in the semifinals – despite struggling domestically.
“I don’t think there’s an explanation,” the 42-year-old said over a coffee with reporters at the team hotel here, where Chelsea kicked off the 2012 Herbalife World Football Challenge with a 4-2 win over the Sounders on Wednesday.
“I’m very proud that I was with this group of players,” Di Matteo continued. “Ultimately, they brought the trophy home. The enormity of it all really hit me during my holidays. Wherever I went, the media exposure the Champions League gives to football was quite amazing. I traveled around the world and any corner I went it was incredible the amount of people that recognized me.”
“The way I look back on it – we made history with a group of players that have been extraordinary over the last decade for this club. That will always stand no matter will happen in the future.”
As for the immediate future, the Blues left Seattle on Friday, flying to New York City on Friday ahead of their Sunday night WFC match against Paris Saint-Germain at Yankee Stadium (7 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
With the start of the Premier League season now just weeks away, Chelsea are focused on preparing themselves for their first campaign as the champions of Europe. But you get a sense that a part of them may still be elsewhere; in Munich on May 19, still in awe of what they accomplished.