In the week John Mikel Obi and Ramires have retired, we revisit words from those two Chelsea midfield greats about the central role they played in our 2012 Champions League triumph…
Both Ramires and Mikel’s finest hours in blue came as that epic and unexpected European campaign reached its conclusion. The Brazilian, a Chelsea player for over five years, scored one of the most iconic goals in our history in the semi-final second leg at Barcelona, and then Mikel was man of the match in Munich as we reached the holy grail after so many near-misses.
On what the commentator Martin Tyler would memorably describe as ‘a journey fraught with danger’, the Blues were never more up against it than when Andres Iniesta put Barca 2-0 at the Camp Nou. Chelsea were not only 2-1 behind on aggregate to a team many describe as the greatest in the history of club football, we were also a man down after John Terry’s sending off. Enter Ramires.
‘We had training in the week before,’ recalled Rami in an interview with this website in 2017.
‘We were doing some finishing and David [Luiz] came to me and said ‘Rami, when the goalkeeper comes, you must chip the ball,’ and I said okay, but in training I did one or two but the ball did not go in the goal!
‘Then in the game, I had that opportunity. Frank Lampard’s pass was amazing, the ball arrived for the one touch and finish. He put the ball in front of me and when I arrived there I chipped the ball, but I saw Valdes coming and Dani Alves come from the left with another defender behind, Pique or Puyol.
‘I saw Valdes coming and if I shot to the side, maybe he could do the save so when I saw the goal behind him I thought the only way is that, and I did it. When the ball dropped, I looked and I ran and then I looked again to see if the ball goes in. That was an amazing moment for me.’
As it was for the five thousand or so Chelsea fans in the Nou Camp’s summit, and everyone else watching around the world. Ramires’s jig of delight spoke not only of the magic of the goal but a renewed belief Chelsea could achieve the impossible. A Lionel Messi penalty miss and a Fernando Torres breakaway goal later, and we had done just that. Somehow!
Having got past Barcelona in their backyard, we would have to repeat the trick in Bavaria. Bayern Munich beat Real Madrid on penalties in the other semi-final, and would be playing on home turf against Roberto Di Matteo’s Blues.
This website’s choice of interviewee for the day of the game was John Mikel Obi, himself immense in both legs against Barca.
‘I am grateful to Robbie as not only did he give me the chance but he believes in me, and I am happy to give him everything I have, and make sure the team keeps winning,’ the Nigerian told us on the eve of the game, having been frustrated by Andre Villas-Boas earlier in the 2011/12 season.
‘It has been going well for the team generally and we have found a way to play. It has been working for us and hopefully it is going to work against Munich.
‘It is a big one and hopefully it is going to go our way. If we can grab a goal in the early stages it is going to be good but we need to make sure we don’t concede early on. It is going to be a very exciting game, and a very difficult game for us because we have key players missing, but those who are stepping in want to make this club proud.
‘After the team lost in Moscow I could see how much it meant to the players, but now we have another chance.’
Having been an unused sub in Russia four years prior, there were never a doubt Mikel would start in Munich, especially with Ramires and Raul Meireles suspended. What followed was a midfield masterclass, Mikel saving his greatest performance for the biggest stage and helping Chelsea repel wave after wave of Bayern attack.
A couple of years later, shortly after reaching 300 appearances for us, Mikel reflected on a career highlight.
‘Sometimes when you come into big games like that you need players to step up, and I think the whole team did. Everyone played very well. It was a great team performance, we knew how tough it was going to be playing in their stadium but we defended well and when we had to play we did that as well.
‘Munich has topped up my Chelsea career, because that trophy was the one the club have always wanted to win, and doing it was brilliant. It was the special one.’
Watching from the stands was less enjoyable, Ramires acknowledged.
‘It was hard because all the time I was thinking I could have been on the pitch helping my team-mates. That feeling is not good but that’s football, and anyway, the team did very well and we won the Champions League!’
Tributes have been pouring in for both players in the past 48 hours. For Mikel, it is a compilation of his best moments in Munich that have been shared far and wide, while for Ramires, that chip is on repeat.
‘Wherever I go, I always meet at least one Chelsea fan and always they come to me and say ‘Oh! Your goal against Barcelona!’,’ he says.
‘I think when Chelsea fans think about the big games, they think about that one.’
The same can be said for Mikel in Munich, and for those contributions alone, the duo’s names will always be etched in Chelsea folklore.