The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw: Chelsea's Essien vs. Barcelona, Champs League 08/09
Wednesday 6th May 2009
To be honest, Chelsea have probably scored better goals than this. They’ve also arguably scored ‘greater’ goals than this. Context and chronology, however, have ensured that there are few Blues classics more unheralded than this.
Everyone remembers that night. No Chelsea fan wants to (in particular those of us who were in Barcelona on the night of 6 May 2009 – I still haven’t forgiven those teachers for taking us on a walk around the city during the game), but we all do. That night. That game. That referee.
It hurt. Like really, really, really hurt. The Champions League always did, until Roberto di Matteo came along and sprinkled his tactical stardust all over the competition. Following the arrival of Guus Hiddink and a ripsnorting 7-5 aggregate win over Liverpool in the last eight, it really looked as if we might finally be about to crack it. But no. Of course not. As the great Homer Simpson once said, “If I've learned anything, it's that life is just one crushing defeat after another until you wish UEFA were dead.” Just when it knew it would sting the most, back came the Champions League we all knew and hated, with its chilling propensity to wallop us right in the testicles.
Everyone remembers the story. 4 penalty appeals, all of which were strong, all of which were ignored. There was much anger. Didier Drogba did a live swear. Michael Ballack flapped his arms around Tom Henning Ovrebo like a plane attempting an unsuccessful take-off. Sky studios was shocked, as Keysie and co. exchanged some conspiracy theories together. Had this taken place in 2014, there would also likely have been chants about Ovrebo having taken a massive metaphorical dump all over our charge to a second successive final against Manchester United.
But the man in black’s excretory urges are not the only story from that night. Michael Essien saw to that. It tends to be forgotten, amidst the potty-mouthed anarchy of it all, that the tie was settled by two strikes of spine-tingling quality. Andres Iniesta’s ‘winner’ (we’ll brush over the fact that it was Essien’s knackered scuff of a clearance that sent the ball straight to assister Lionel Messi’s feet), heart-breaking though it was, was a fabulously composed piece of individual skill under implausibly high pressure.
Let’s be real here though; only one of them went in off the bar, and goals that go in off the bar are automatically elevated to another stratosphere of greatness.
Essien gave it the full Yeboah. While arguably not his most technically impressive goal, having previously flouted the laws of physics by banana-ing one in against Arsenal in 2006, this one possessed both celestial and visceral qualities – coming as it did in a European semi-final, at home, under the lights, with the tie absolutely in the balance, against Barcelona and Pep Guardiola, ringleaders of the ‘I think therefore I pass’ mob. A modest 23.6 metres from goal it may only have been, but that was enough. The shot felt like a purging of all past European sins, as if years of pent-up fury and frustration at a multitude of hard luck stories were exploding off his left foot. No referee could take that away from us.
If ever a Chelsea fan needs a coping mechanism for whenever they’re forced to think about this game, take Essien’s 9th-minute wonder and run with it. Just make sure you don’t get in the way of it.