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Branded for dismissal, Chelsea's underappreciated trio delivers a Champions League trophy

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

The epic conclusion to Chelsea's Champions League adventure was orchestrated by three men that the club was planning to ditch in the summer.

Didier Drogba was one of the primary heroes on the field in Saturday's final, rolling in the decisive penalty kick in the thrilling shootout against Bayern Munich to give Chelsea the most glorious moment in its long history.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech kept his side in contention with some vital saves during regulation time – the longtime stalwart got down to stop an Arjen Robben penalty during extra-time, then kept out Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the shootout to set up Drogba's clutch kick.

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Chelsea's Didier Drogba (R) celebrates with Petr Cech after winning Saturday. (AP)

And Roberto Di Matteo was the head coach who set the tone for it all, turning around a season that looked doomed to disaster following a dismal run of form that led to the firing of Andre Villas-Boas.

Still, even after this memorable night in Munich where Chelsea exorcised all those painful memories of semifinal defeats in this competition (plus its loss to Manchester United in the 2008 final), the future of the three is uncertain.

Drogba has been on borrowed time ever since Chelsea splashed out $79.5 million on Fernando Torres 16 months ago and is now a free agent after reaching the end of his contract. He has been linked with a move to the Chinese Super League, where he could earn around $15 million per season, perhaps more now.

But if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has any sense, he will do whatever it takes to retain Drogba for another year, at the very least. The big man from the Ivory Coast might be 34, but Chelsea could not have done this without him.

[Related: Chelsea makes good on Abramovich's $1.59 billion investment]

Drogba's inexhaustible work-rate in the semifinal helped Chelsea beat Barcelona, and his thunderous header with two minutes left in normal time rescued the London club Saturday. Drogba's equalizer cancelled out Thomas Mueller's opener for Bayern and sent the game to extra time.

How appropriate it was for him to convert the winning kick, then embark upon a joyous sprint over to Chelsea's band of traveling supporters, ripping off his shirt and beating the ground with it in sheer delight.

"This is what we have been doing for years – showing this kind of spirit," Drogba said. "I have been here for eight years and when you are a Chelsea player you never give up until the end. We try to give that mentality to the young players. This is amazing."

 

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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich holds the trophy with Didier Drogba. (Reuters)

Just as amazing have been the efforts of Cech in the Champions League. The 30-year-old's skills have waned in recent campaigns, and even this season his performances in the English Premier League left much to be desired.

In the Champions League though, he has been outstanding, never more so than here. While he might have done more to prevent Mueller's goal, he was exceptional whenever Bayern stepped up to the spot. After denying Robben in extra time, he repeatedly guessed correctly in the shootout and tilted the momentum back into Chelsea's favor.

"I don't know what to say," Cech said. "I am so proud of everybody. I went the right way five times. I just kept believing."

This performance might have earned Cech more time at Chelsea, as the club was previously planning to launch a major attempt to sign Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul from Newcastle as his replacement. However, game-changing displays in Champions League finals tend to buy an extra bit of loyalty.

Then there is the curious case of Di Matteo, who has given Abramovich the chalice that he always dreamed of, but may not be around at the start of next season. Di Matteo took the job of Chelsea's assistant coach after being fired from West Brom less than two years ago, took over the main job on a temporary basis when Villas-Boas was fired and is now one of the hottest young coaches in Europe.

But that still might not be enough for Abramovich, who has never shown any patience or mercy to his coaches if he feels there is a better option available. Victory has assured Di Matteo a place on Abramovich's short list of potential permanent managers, but nothing more.

Whether all, some or none of Saturday's heroic trio return next season, they have all etched their names into Chelsea folklore, on a night where the impossible became reality and men destined for the scrapheap gave a reminder that they still had plenty to offer.

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