Sunday, May 18, 2008

Champions League Final in Moscow will be like a War, but Capello takes caution measures

The five-star hotel in Hertfordshire used by the England National Team in the build-up to internationals, could be the custodians of some prized possessions by the end of the week. Along with the mobile phones, flip-flops and shorts banned by italian coach Fabio Capello, the footballers of Chelsea FC and Manchester United have agreed to leave their Champions League winner’s medals at home for fear of upsetting their teammates, with any transgressors to have their loot confiscated immediately. No mercy.

Talented winger Joe Cole is ready to go to war with United in Moscow on Wednesday, but has already brokered a peace treaty that will come into force when they report for international duty on Friday in preparation for the friendly internationals against the United States squad at Wembley on May 28 and Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain four days later. Having half-a-dozen or so England internationals playing in the Moscow Champions League final is a source of pride, but also causes certain problems.

“They know I love them, but Wednesday night will be a war,” Joe Cole assured. “But whoever wins wins, and it’s difficult. You can’t have banter about it because we meet up with England two days later. You have to be dignified in win and defeat.

“In fact, you just can’t go running round with a Champions League medal round your neck at The Grove, either. We’ve had a little word about it already. We’ve said we wouldn’t do that.”

Such taunting would be surely too much to bear for those on the losing team, particularly for those, such as Jow Cole, who are looking forward to playing in the most important match of their career. “It will be the biggest thrill of my life to play in a Champions League final and to hopefully go and win it will be cracking,” he expressed. “I can’t wait. The World Cup games have been the biggest of my life so far. I spent a lot of time growing up watching World Cups and that was the reason I wanted to be a pro.

“However, the Champions League has taken on a life of its own, everything from the special music before you go out, it’s the pinnacle. In fact, it’s next to a World Cup final.

“For the young lads to climb the top of the mountain is a huge achievement and something that takes the breath away. It doesn’t matter if it’s Man United or whoever. This wasn’t on the radar when I was growing up, but the more successful you are, the more greedy you get and the more you want. I really want this.”

Talented Cole’s hunger is not in doubt. It is shown by the tireless energy that is the hallmark of his game, though his ability to make an impact at the highest level has been questioned. It says much about his consistency that the 26-year-old has been Chelsea’s busiest footballer this season, with 54 appearances, a far cry from his role as a perennial substitute when he first joined the team.

It's true that Joe Cole has benefited from Avram Grant’s more relaxed style of leadership, having tired of what some have perceived as José Mourinho’s bullying tactics, but his improvement has taken place gradually over the past five years and it is shown by the calibre of midfield players to leave the squad during that time. “Looking at players who have come in, the wingers like Gérémi, Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and Jesper Gronkjaer, they were all ahead of me at times, but I’ve carried on,” Cole expressed. “That’s because I’ve been out there and it’s like playing with my mates. It’s fantastic. I’ve always believed in myself, I’ve always been ready for the fight, but if my career finished at Chelsea tomorrow, I wouldn’t just want people to remember me for winning trophies. I’m always there for the fight and will give my all.”

For all his professionalism, Joe Cole retains the youthful enthusiasm of the ten-year-old who rushed back from a cup final of his own to watch italian powerhouse AC Milan humiliate Barcelona in the Champions League final 14 years ago. His habit of saying that he “just wants to play football” may grate during interviews, but it captures his essence and explains his popularity around the country, even with opposing supporters.

“I used to play in the AC Milan shirt for my team when I was a kid,” Cole recalls. “The year that Milan beat Barcelona 4-0, we played our cup final that same night about 6pm. We won that final and went back with our families and watched the European Cup final.

“I totally supported Milan. I was only 12 nad didn’t know too much about Milan, I didn’t even know where Milan was. But they had the same kit as us so I supported them. They had great players, including french leader Marcel Desailly, and to end up playing with him was amazing.”

It's important to say that Cole will have further childhood memories when he comes up against Michael Carrick, also a product of the West Ham United youth academy, at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, a far cry from the days when they were relegated together at West Ham.

“He’s done fantastically this season and, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s been their player of the year,” Cole expressed. “I speak to a lot of people up there and he probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s a great footballer. But, again, Wednesday night is Wednesday night.

“Yes, if you ask both sets of players, they’d take a scrappy 1-0, but I hope for the punters that it’s a great match, free-flowing football and a good advert for the game.

“I have to say that I get emotional before big games – you know how much it means to your family and to everyone around the club, but mainly for my family, mum and dad, brother and sister and girlfriend”, he concluded, completely sure about their triumph.

Moscow Final: Ballack to face the game of his life

Talented German midfielder Michael Ballack believes Wednesday night's Champions League final with the Chelsea jersey on is a "golden opportunity" to make up for his past failures.

Indeed, the talented player was a losing European Cup finalist in 2002 when Real Madrid beat his Bayern Leverkusen team.

"You don't go into these games to lose. I know what that feels like and I will give everything to get the victory," he said ahead of the final against Manchester United.

"We are a really strong squad and we've shown that constantly during the season."

In 2002, as well as losing in the Champions League final, Leverkusen conceded the Bundesliga title to the powerfull Bayern Munich and were beaten in the German Cup final.

And just a month later, the midfielder missed the World Cup final, which Germany lost to Brazil, because of suspension.

We also must mention that Chelsea have already lost one final this season, the League Cup against Tottenham, while they were pipped to the Premier League title by Manchester United on the final day of the campaign.

"Yes, I was at Leverkusen and we were five points ahead in the league with three games to play and had reached the Champions League final," expressed the former Bayern Munich captain.

"But we managed to still come second in the German Bundesliga and then we lost the Champions League to Real Madrid.

"We lost the German Cup final that year, too, and then Germany lost in the World Cup final against Ronaldo's Brazil, so this is a golden opportunity to put it right."

Michael Ballack has developed into an instrumental player for manager Avram Grant after a lengthy period on the sidelines earlier in the season with a painful ankle injury.

But He netted both goals in Chelsea's 2-1 league win over United last month and the player himself says he feels revitalised: "I am totally happy with the way things have gone this season, especially after my difficult injury," Ballack said.

"When I returned to fitness I got back in the team very quickly because we had some injuries in the squad. That gave me my golden opportunity to make an impact straight away.

"I already said before the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool that I think we still look good and fresh as a football team. We coped with playing 120 minutes in that game and scored two goals in extra-time.

"That's why I think it shows that we have a very good level of physical strength in this team. The final of the Champions League is one match so it is all in our hands". And this time, he will not miss it.