2012 Untold: Malouda’s ‘blood, sweat and tears’ to fulfil Champions League destiny

From the official Chelsea FC website:

Ahead of facing Bayern Munich in Saturday’s Legends of Europe match at Stamford Bridge, Florent Malouda reveals the difficult conversation he had on the eve of the 2012 Champions League final and the driving force behind that Chelsea squad becoming European champions.

Malouda is one of several players from the 2012 Champions League-winning Chelsea squad that will be back at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

He will feature for Chelsea Legends against Bayern Munich. It is a game that celebrates that famous evening in Munich as well as remembering the late, great Gianluca Vialli, a man who had a huge impact on the Blues as both a player and manager.

In addition to the good cause being supported in memory of Vialli, it is also a rare chance for the 2012 squad to come together and remember past success.

As Malouda explains, those opportunities have always been few and far between, with so many members of the squad going their own way at the end of that glorious Champions League campaign.

‘We don’t have many opportunities to gather and the fact it will be against Bayern Munich…for us it’s a privilege,’ says Malouda. ‘I think we’re going to have a great time. The last Chelsea Legends game we had was at Real Madrid, that was the last opportunity we had to be together and play in the same shirt.

‘It’s rare since that final; we never know when it’s going to happen next. It makes you realise that you want to make the most of it and really enjoy every second. It will be a special moment for us – and that’s when you realise that era was very special. I can’t wait to be there at the Bridge.’

Florent will no doubt have plenty of stories to share, with the events of the 2011/12 season, and the Champions League final in particular, still firmly in his mind. But the incredible team spirit, forged over many years through a series of near misses in Europe, is what stands out most.

Those European heartbreaks include semi-final losses to Barcelona and Liverpool, plus of course the penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester United in our first final.

But those disappointments formed the foundations for our eventual success, in addition to creating a feeling that Champions League glory was the team’s destiny, as Malouda explains as he begins the story in Munich on the morning of the 2012 final.

‘The morning before the game seemed to go really quick,’ recalls the Frenchman. ‘We didn’t have too much time to think about the different scenarios, we were just ready for it.

‘We were like a unit; we came on a mission. It was going to be our last game together, so let’s do it. Through blood, sweat and tears, no matter how. That’s why the day went pretty fast, the focus was really at the maximum, everything was perfect that day.

‘That team was built for the Champions League. That was really the project from about 2004, this team was designed to win this competition. I remember my first season at Chelsea we were so close when we lost on penalties in Moscow, that was heartbreaking.

‘With everything that happened through the years we realised how difficult it was to get close to this trophy and to actually lift it. So in 2012 it was quite strange, because from the Napoli game it was like we put our whole career on the line.

‘Everything was so tight and so difficult, we had to turn things around, it was like everything was against us. We were going against brick walls and we were passing through.

‘We were the underdog from the Napoli game. Everybody wrote us off. But the spirit in the team, it was the accumulation of all those years that made it. We had the belief internally, but I don’t think many people shared it outside!

‘That’s what makes it so special. Experienced players or young players, there was something that was keeping us together through our differences. There were so many different types of people in that squad, but we all had belief. Our team had a chance and we just took it. Really I couldn’t write a better story than this final.’

If the players in that squad knew why they had been brought to Stamford Bridge, many did not know how long they would remain at the club. While every passing year added more experience and motivation, the team had also aged. And it hadn’t gone unnoticed in the dressing room or the boardroom.

Change was coming at Chelsea, and that meant for many of the players in Munich, their greatest triumph for Chelsea would also be their last. Some, Malouda included, would never play for the Blues again after the 2012 final.

‘I wasn’t expecting that it would be my last game, I really thought that I would at least finish my last season with the club before my contract ended,’ says Malouda. ‘But at the time that was not really a concern.

‘I was just enjoying it, especially as we had the FA Cup final, which we won as well. We had so many things on the line that any individual case, including mine, was not really a concern.

‘I was aware that for the group of players, this was maybe one of the last seasons we would spend together. There was a renewing of the team going on and we knew some people would be leaving.

‘We were just enjoying what was going on because we knew that people would leave at the end of the season. I just didn’t know that I would be one of them!

‘Looking back at it now, when I look at my shirt from the final, it makes it so special, because it was the last one I wore for Chelsea. Every time I look back at the pictures in that jersey it makes it so special. It’s like the story was completed.’

It wasn’t quite a fairytale ending for Malouda, though. An injury sustained in our last league game of the season against Blackburn Rovers meant it was questionable as to whether he would be involved in the final.

Malouda was not the only player in that situation, and it is often underappreciated just how many members of that squad played, performed and triumphed despite not being 100 per cent fit.

The togetherness and determination of those players ensured egos were put aside for the good of the team, and Malouda shares his side of a difficult conversation with Roberto Di Matteo at the team hotel prior to the game, which saw the Frenchman introduced in the second half.

‘It was part of a game plan from the boss that I would come on then because I was injured. I think there were four players injured, but two of them, Gary Cahill and David Luiz started. We had a lot of hamstring injuries!

‘When I said earlier “blood, sweat and tears”, this is part of what I meant because I was really injured. But you just think about the prize and even if you have to hurt yourself it is worth it.

‘The night before the game I had an honest chat with the gaffer. I told him I didn’t think I could play the whole game, and maybe extra time. So he knew how many minutes I had. I’m happy I was honest with Roberto and that he trusted me, because even being thrown on then was a big responsibility as well.

‘It never crossed my mind to say I was better than I was and that I could start, it was clear for me. I told him if someone else is fit, I prefer that they play. I wanted to play, for sure, and your ego always wants to be a starter, but maybe I would need to come off.

‘I was trying to give him insight so he could decide; that’s the best way to help and support the manager. He needs to take decisions, so I need to be honest.

‘It was a matter of trust. I also trusted my team-mates, like Ryan Bertrand, who started in my position. For me, whether it was me or another player, it didn’t matter. We had to win this prize. It was a beautiful night. A beautiful story.’

All of that goes some way to explain the exhilarating scenes of celebration which followed our penalty shoot-out victory.

And what better way to finish than for Malouda to recall, as best he can, the ecstatic hours that followed for supporters and players alike.

‘First, I picture the feeling of holding that trophy, because since I was a kid I’d seen it always protected behind some glass. But to have the right to hold it, to kiss it, to lift it – this is a real privilege. Then after that it was the celebrations. We really enjoyed the moment on the pitch with this trophy.

‘Everybody took their time, I think maybe we got back to the hotel at 2am because we spent so much time on the pitch celebrating. To see players acting like kids because we have this trophy, this is my memory.

‘I still have this memory of Didier Drogba, what else could put someone like him in that sort of mindset to enjoy and ride around with the trophy like a kid with a toy.

‘We didn’t really sleep much, which is why everybody put on their sunglasses and their hats for the bus parade the next day, because our eyes were so small! Then on the bus with the London streets and the celery, it was great! It all went so fast, but at the same time I’m happy that I enjoyed every second of it.’

You can join Malouda and the host of other former Blues from our 2012 Champions League triumph and the previous generation as we celebrate our Munich victory and remember true Chelsea legend Vialli at the Bridge on Saturday. The final few tickets for Legends of Europe are still available here from just £35 for adults and £17 for concessions. All proceeds will be split between The Chelsea Foundation and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, which supports the work of The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, where Vialli was treated.

2012 Untold: Kalou on how Di Matteo inspired European glory and a special Munich haircut!





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