There has been endless debate
about Chelsea's fate once Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole
and Didier Drogba move on, but young defender Ryan Bertrand
proved at Saturday's Champions League final that the future is
bright at Stamford Bridge.
The 22-year-old left-back became the first player to make
his European debut in either a European Cup or Champions League
final in 30 years on Saturday as he helped Chelsea to beat
Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Munich.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Nigel Spink was the last to achieve
the feat when he came on as a 10th-minute substitute in the 1982
final for the injured Jimmy Rimmer.
Like Spink, Bertrand ended with a winners' medal round his
neck after victory over Bayern Munich, and, like the goalkeeper,
the Englishman played an important part in his side's victory.
In the 73 minutes he was on the pitch he acquitted himself
well in what was only his eighth appearance for Chelsea,
although he has appeared nearly 150 times in the lower leagues
of English football while on loan at Bournemouth, Oldham
Athletic, Norwich City, Reading and Nottingham Forest.
"I have been out on loan to a lot of clubs and played a fair
few games now, but obviously nothing compares to the scale of
what happened here," Bertrand said after emerging from the
victorious Chelsea dressing room.
"When the manager told me I was playing, of course I could
hardly believe it, but I knew what I had to do.
"I was getting all these flashbacks too of when I was a kid,
growing up in South London, in Peckham, in Bermondsey, tough
places, playing against the wall with my mates.
"And I spent time at so many clubs, I wondered at times
where my career was going, but I never gave up."
Bertrand was a surprise starter in the Chelsea line-up and
got his chance only because Florent Malouda suffered a hamstring
injury last week, resulting in the young Englishman being asked
to play in an unfamiliar midfield role in front of left back
Bertrand was resolute as Bayern fired 35 attempts at the
English side's goal.
He left the field to be replaced by Malouda with the match
still scoreless and the Chelsea supporters singing "one Ryan
Bertrand," to cap a dream debut.
"He handled himself so well, he was under huge pressure and
he didn't show it," team-mate Gary Cahill said.
"I mean he's 22, and to play with the composure he did,
playing out of position against Arjen Robben and the likes of
Mario Gomez, one of the most experienced wingers around, was
Bertrand, however, was keen to praise others.
"Ashley Cole has been such a massive help to me too, all the
way through. It was great being out there with him, he kept his
eye on me," Bertrand said.
"The atmosphere was amazing, Bayern fans outnumbered the
Chelsea fans and it wasn't 50/50 in there, there was more like
70 percent of them, against us, but we stuck in there together
and won it. It is just incredible."
Much has been made of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's huge
investment in the London side to achieve his ambition of
becoming kings of Europe, but Bertrand's signing was not one
expected to result in Champions League glory.
Having joined lower league English side Gillingham as a
nine-year-old, he moved to Chelsea when he was 15 for an initial
fee of 125,000 pounds which provoked considerable
anger from Gillingham's feisty chairman Paul Scally.
That fee can rise to a maximum of 525,000 pounds after he
has played 40 league games but with Bertrand's contribution in
the final outweighing that of the expensive signings of Fernando
Torres and unused substitute Michael Essien, the deal could
prove to be one of Abramovich's finest.
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