Since the Champions League final is being played on a Saturday this year instead of its tradition midweek placement, the match should reach an even larger audience than its record-setting, Super Bowl-beating television viewership last year. Add to that the fact that it's being aired on network TV for the first time ever in the U.S. and you'll realize that there will be a large number of people watching who are unfamiliar with both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan as they both attempt to add to their domestic league and cup wins and complete the treble with the title of Champions of Europe.
So with that, let's run through a select few interesting people involved in this year's final as a less than comprehensive introduction.
Name: Jose Mourinho, Also known as: The Special One
Winning the Champions League with FC Porto in 2004 propelled him and his delightfully entertaining ego to the point where he declared himself The Special One upon joining Chelsea, where he quickly won back-to-back Premier League titles before moving on to Inter Milan and back-to-back Serie A titles in his first two seasons there.
Fueled by an obsession with winning at all costs and unifying his teams through a paranoid "us against the world" mentality, Jose is endlessly quotable and has spawned parodies in hilarious song and puppet show form.
Some hate him (including, as he says, all of Italy) others adore him (including his future employer, Real Madrid), but no matter how you feel about him, you will probably find him to be one of the most entertaining people in the game.
Name: Samuel Eto’o, Also known as: Pantera Negra (Black Panther)
Barcelona's third highest scorer of all-time (along with Rivaldo) and captain of the Cameroon national team, Eto'o started his European career with Real Madrid B before eventually ending up with Barcelona and winning La Liga in 2004-05. At the celebration for that title, he started Barca fans on a "Madrid, b*******, hail the champions!" chant. So his reception in the Champions League final host city should be lovely.
He endured a horrible amount of racial abuse in Spain before joining Inter in a swap deal that sent Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barca, and even tried to walk off during a match he felt was particularly intolerable, but his time there remained productive on the pitch as he won numerous individual awards. In Italy, he has continued to consistently find the back of the net as Inter's second leading scorer.
Fun Fact: Eto'o gave all of his Cameroon teammates incredibly expensive watches in November as a reward for qualifying for the World Cup.
Name: Wesley Sneijder, Also known as: The Flying Dutchman
When Mourinho arrived at Inter he told the upper management that he needed a player in the center of the park to be the primary offensive distributor and provide a significant scoring threat from the midfield to be successful, and that is exactly what the diminutive Dutchman has provided in Inter’s run to the CL final. Sneijder is well known for his thunderous right peg and is the most likely suspect to pop up and score a highlight-reel goal on a long-range rip from the run of play or set piece.
Also of note is Sneijd’s aerodynamic dome (sort of a theme for the Dutch midfield stars in this final), making him appear older than his actual 25 years of age. He also usually rocks a snazzy pair of custom bright orange and baby blue Nike boots that completely clash with the Inter color scheme, so it shouldn’t be hard to keep an eye on the guy with the rocket foot running the Italian club’s attack. Oh, and he has a fairly attractive lady friend.
Name: Mario Balotelli, Also known as: Super Mario, Balo
Born in Sicily to Ghanaian parents and adopted by the Balotelli family at age three, Mario Balotelli is an awesome young talent and a rebellious troublemaker in equal parts. Tall, powerful, and fast as lightening with a set of hops that seem better suited for the NBA dunk contest, Balo has an athletic set-up closer to that of LeBron James than most footballers. Add in a shot that could kill someone on impact and silky foot skills and you have the makings of one what could one day be one of the best players in the world.
At the moment that is definitely not a category Mario finds himself in, though. Known more for his volatile personality, on-field theatrics, outlandish statements in the press, spats with manager Jose Mourinho, Inter’s club directors, Inter’s supporters, and just about everyone with a heartbeat in Italy (especially those with a tendency to hurl racial slurs), talk on Balotelli hardly ever focuses on his game as much as it should.
Some of his highlights from the past year include: Announcing that he is a supporter of Inter Milan’s cross-town rival AC Milan to the press and donning an AC Milan shirt on an Italian TV show. Having more ridiculous hairdos than David Beckham and Lindsay Lohan combined. Having his car sabotaged by his own club's fans. Getting attacked by his own teammate, and resident Zidane headbutt-inducer, Marco Materazzi. And pretty much shooting his mouth off to the press about Jose Mourinho or some other high-ranking figure in the club on a bi-weekly basis. If he gets on the pitch in this one expect some type of riot to breakout in the stands, missiles to be thrown, women and children to be hidden away, him getting the snot kicked out of him by an opponent (or teammate), and, maybe, just maybe, some scary-good footy skills.
Name: Luis van Gaal, Also known as: GlucksGaal (Lucky van Gaal)
Mourinho's boss at Barcelona a decade ago, van Gaal has won titles all over Europe and has apparently developed a taste for wearing Lederhosen along the way. In his first year with Bayern, van Gaal got off to a troubled start has slowly won over the fans by winning and already collecting two trophies.
Best Quote: "I am a party beast."
Name: Arjen Robben, Also known as: The Flying Dutchman (another one), Glass
His game is a bit like watching an out of control rollercoaster, but this year Arjen’s been able to keep his club on the Champions League tracks, creating and scoring several vital goals including a few absolutely ridiculous strikes to get Bayern this far in the competition. Robben’s talent is based around blinding speed accompanied by an ankle-breaking set of dangles. When dribbling it appears as if he is conducting a symphony with his feet as he blows by defenders. It can often look like he’s more ready to experience an epileptic seizure then set up a teammate in front of net, but despite those fears, I have yet to see the guy go into any actual convulsions on the pitch.
Arjen is known for his glass legs, leaving him battling injuries for a majority of his career after getting whacked down on a regular basis. Like Wesley Sneijder, Robben is a Real Madrid outcast who will be looking to show the Spanish crowd what they're missing.
Robben -- who also played under Mourinho at Chelsea and this week took a shot at his former manager -- has been known to wear some interesting leg accessories, culminating in the leggings he wore in the earlier part of the year at Bayern until they were banned, probably for his own good.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Also known as: Schweini
A mainstay for Bayern Munich and the German national team, Bastian is a winger, who has moved to a defensive midfielder role in recent seasons. With an excellent cross and a ferocious shot from long range, he's never far from the ball and is always a danger. Perhaps even better with the German team than he is with Bayern, where he's been since a teenage, Bastian has mellowed from more temperamental days into a consistent force for his club.
In addition to all that relevant stuff, Schweini also has a talent for drinking a stupid amount of water and a beautiful girlfriend who was recently featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue wearing nothing but bodypaint.
Name: Franck Ribery, Also known as: The Magician
A French winger with a serious case of little man’s complex -- fiery to the core, Ribery, arguably Munich’s best player when he's in form, is missing out on the final due to a red card suspension earned in the semifinals for getting stompy against Lyon. So instead of showing a compilation of his talents on the pitch, we'll share a collection of his wacky practical jokes, which will probably be his only contribution to the Champions League final.
Ribs is probably most well known for his face, home to a set of rough looking scars stemming from a car accident when he was two years old. Sure to be a major factor for France in the World Cup, lately Ribery has been gaining more attention for his appreciation of underage prostitutes. And I think that's as good a place as any to end this.
Photos: Getty Images
- Bayern Munich
- Inter Milan
- Jose Mourinho
- Mario Balotelli