I can still see the cross coming in. I can see the ball bouncing off Thomas Müller’s head, looping over Petr Čech and then hitting the crossbar and going in.
And then I remember the sound. I couldn’t even hear myself think … it was just pure electricity.
Bayern Munich had scored in Munich, in the 83rd minute of the 2012 Champions League final to go up 1–0 on Chelsea — my team. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sound like that before.
A few seconds later, I was standing at the center circle of the Allianz Arena, waiting for the Bayern players to stop celebrating the goal that they thought had just won the match. Didier Drogba, my Chelsea teammate, walked up to me to restart play. Didier never had his head down — never looked discouraged — but now he did. And I couldn’t understand why. We had gone through so much to get to the final. Our manager had been sacked a few months before, had come from behind to beat Napoli in the round of 16, then we had survived with 10-men at Camp Nou in the semifinals. And now … what? It was over?
I put my hand on Didier’s shoulder and said, “Look around, Didier. Look where we are. Please, don’t worry. Keep believing … just believe.”
For some reason I just kept thinking, We are destined to win this thing.
I’m a pretty quiet person, and I think when Didier saw me encouraging him to keep going, he couldn’t help but smile.
He said, “O.K., Juan. Let’s go.”
We were surrounded by 50,000 screaming German fans, but down on the pitch, Didier and I knew that we just needed a chance. And five minutes later, we got one. We won a corner. I lined up over the ball and Didier came running to the near post. You remember, yes?
I think every Chelsea fan remembers Martin Tyler’s call.
“Drogbaaaaaaaaaaaaa! They’ve pulled the rabbit out of the hat again! Chelsea will just not let go in the Champions League!”
After we scored that equalizer … I just knew. Even when we went to penalty kicks, I still knew. And when Didier stepped up to take the final penalty, I was sure he was going to score. I think the expression on his face after the ball went in said everything. He didn’t know whether he wanted to cry or laugh. He was overwhelmed, like we all were.
And as soon as the craziness died down — I immediately thought of my family. Every one of them was there in the crowd that night: my dad, mom, grandparents, friends. I knew the penalties must have been stressful for them — especially my poor grandmother.
Later on, someone told me that she had been so nervous that she actually had to hide in the bathroom toward the end of the match.
As we were celebrating, I looked around at my teammates, and I saw the beauty of football. A keeper from the Czech Republic. A defender from Serbia, and another from Brazil. Midfielders from Ghana, Nigeria, Portugal, Spain and England. And, of course, one incredible striker from Côte D’Ivoire.
We came from all over the world, from different circumstances, and spoke many different languages. Some had grown up during wartime. Some had grown up in poverty. But there we were, all standing together in Germany as champions of Europe.
The way we had come together from all around the world to work for a common goal was more meaningful to me than the trophy. To me, that is something that can change the world for the better.
The greatest Champions League campaign story every told!!