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The giant replica of the European Cup, which fans of Chelsea and Manchester City want to photograph, rises above Liberdade Square and is a reminder of the prize sought in the Champions League final on Saturday.
And the football legacy that their clubs tried to destroy just a month ago.
The all-English final in Porto is a meeting of two of the richest teams in Europe at the end of a season marked by a pandemic that has pushed squads to the limit and benefited those with the greatest resources.
It’s another reminder of the virtues of the elite, seemingly forever striving for great wealth and power, which undermines any expansion of the profile of would-be finalists.
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But with all the grudges and allegations in the aftermath of the collapse of the Super League spin-off, the 66th UEFA elite competition final offers a glimmer of hope in troubled times – both within the sport and beyond.
Aside from a game at Stamford Bridge when 2,000 fans were admitted in December, most City or Chelsea fans were unable to witness the journey to the final up close in the stadiums. They even missed the chance to protest in stadiums against the offer of their own clubs to bring the largely closed replacement for the Champions League, which collapsed within 48 hours, on the market.
After all, fans are allowed to enter the Estádio do Dragão in their 13th game of the competition. The roar and energy of the crowd so missed during the pandemic will be back for the UEFA showpiece after last season’s final was played in an empty stadium in Lisbon.
The Champions League final is returning to Portugal more out of dire straits after Istanbul was abandoned due to the surge in coronavirus infections in Turkey.
Hopes for an easier journey for fans – the final on home soil at Wembley – were dashed by coronavirus controls that prevented full access for UEFA delegations. This resulted in Portugal opening its borders to more than 10,000 visitors.
It’s the kind of mass movement of football fans across Europe that hasn’t been seen in the Champions League since the pandemic began last March.
There are often pitfalls for groups of English fans traveling. Troubles flared up briefly on the streets of Porto on Thursday evening as all restaurants and bars closed at 10:30 p.m. due to the pandemic curfew.
Getting to Portugal and the stadium required multiple coronavirus tests that cost hundreds of dollars.
But that was the least complicated aspect of Manchester City, making it to the European Cup final for the first time in its 141-year history as the club joined the European elite after taking over Abu Dhabi 13 years ago. The inflow of money from Sheikh Mansour – a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi – brought unprecedented success to a team that had long lived in the shadow of three-time European champions Manchester United.
But the elaborate composition of the team also led to investigations into violations of the rules of financial fair play and to penalties for hindering the investigators. These FFP rules are being revised to allow higher spending for players hindered by the current regulations. A year ago, Pep Guardiola’s side were threatened with expulsion from the Champions League until the club’s lawyers helped the club to a decisive victory in lifting the UEFA ban before the Court of Justice.
Guardiola is in his first Champions League final since his second win as Barcelona coach in 2011 and reached this stage with City on the fifth attempt.
For Thomas Tuchel, who lost as a finalist last season when Paris Saint-Germain fell against Bayern Munich, it is more familiar territory. The German will lead Chelsea at Porto just 123 days after signing Chelsea to save a stalled season under Frank Lampard. A top four spot in the Premier League was regained to qualify for the Champions League without even having to win the final.
It is reminiscent of 2012, when another mid-season representative – Roberto Di Matteo – brought Chelsea to their first Champions League final and defeated Bayern Munich on their own turf. It wasn’t an underdog success, but rather fulfilling the goal of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich after buying the club in 2003.
Chelsea have beaten City twice in their three games this season, including in the FA Cup semi-finals, but Tuchel’s side lost to Leicester. City, however, already has two trophies after winning the League Cup for the fourth year in a row and the Premier League for the fifth time in 10 seasons.
“It’s always like this, so difficult to play against your teams,” said Tuchel of Guardiola. “I watched his Barcelona team to learn about football from him and his team; how to defend, how to attack.”
The admiration is mutual.
“I’m learning a lot from Thomas,” said Guardiola. “I learned a lot by observing his teams, with our conversations. It doesn’t matter whether he has a lot of information about us or about me, because in the end, luckily, he can’t play for world football, I can’t play. Well “In the end, the guys who decide the final will be the players.”