Godfather Of Champions Chapter 447
Perhaps after the game had ended, Twain would remember to explain to Anelka why he was the one replaced, and not Viduka or anyone else.
As the Forest team insisted on playing high balls on the field, Viduka was needed for his excellent headers. Being a sturdy and powerful center forward, Anelka was not suited for this task. Eighteen minutes into the game, most of Viduka’s job was to support Anelka and wait for his opportunity to assist in the shooting.
Maybe in other competitions, Viduka’s image was that he was there to assist Anelka, just like the relationship between a flower and leaves. Anelka was the flower and Viduka was the leaves. But in this game, when it was necessary to break open the Barcelona goal with high-altitude bombardment, Viduka became the flower and Anelka had inevitably become the green leaves.
Twain certainly would not replace Viduka, the main attack point, nor would he casually substitute any players on the defensive line. The four midfielders were well-balanced and needed to contend against Barcelona’s powerful midfield. One less player would break that balance. After much consideration, he could only switch Anelka.
And the problem lay with that.
It was a paradox.
Only Anelka could be changed.
But Anelka did not want to be brought off. He considered himself to be the core and entirely worthy to be No. 1. Eastwood’s nine-month of absence due to his injury had given him the chance to become the core of the team’s offense. He firmly seized it and proved his worth and strength with one goal after another. The manager trusted him. Even when Eastwood, the manager’s favorite player, returned from his recovery, he could not shake Anelka’s absolute hold on the main position. He, too, used his goals to repay the manager’s trust.
It looked wonderful, working wholeheartedly with the manager and the team throwing itself into competitions. Together, they created a series of legends: Second place in the Premier League and Champions League final
Anelka was awarded the second place in the Premier League’s top strikers. He also ranked fourth as one of the top strikers in the Champions League. If the Forest team could defeat Barcelona in an “upset” for this game, he would reap his second Champions League trophy. This time, he would no longer be forgotten. He was the core of the team and deserved credit for the victory. He would usher in the revival of his career, which would be another pinnacle for him…
What a wonderful future.
But all of this, the wonderful prospects were shattered by his sudden substitution.
In such an important game, on the home ground of the team he had played for, in front of the Parisians who had once mocked him, after the game had only been going for eighteen minutes, he was replaced by the manager.
This was what he comprehended from Twain’s substitution: he was not an important player in the manager’s heart and could be sacrificed or replaced at any time.
With his eccentric temperament, Anelka would not consider the factors behind the switch. He only knew that he had been replaced and cast aside at an important juncture.
He walked past Twain with a darkened face. He did not shake hands with his manager. He did not communicate or even nod his head in acknowledgment. Just like that, he brushed past the manager whom he had once said he “admired the most” in an interview, walked straight into the player’s tunnel, and disappeared beyond the clamor.
When he returned to the locker room, Anelka took out his phone from his locker and called his agent instead of taking a shower and changing his clothes.
There was no television camera to record what happened at that moment, and after the game, Anelka would not bring it up to anyone, including Twain.
Holding his phone, Anelka turned to his brothers for help. “I want to leave.”
Ten minutes later, when Anelka changed his clothes and returned to the sidelines, Twain remembered to look at him and then quickly turned his eyes back to the field. He was not in the mood to think about Anelka’s reaction and feelings about this substitution.
The Forest team was short one player and he had to change his strategy. He had to move the shooting position further back and strive to steady the defense. He had to persist with playing defense in this game, to hold until they reached overtime and the penalty shootout.
Nottingham Forest started a stormy offensive in the game as Edwin van der Sar being sent off became a thing of the past. Paul Gerrard, who just came on, was not a reassuring player.
The British commentator gasped in surprise when he was introduced. Beneath the Forest team’s strong exterior hid such a fatal weakness: their substitutes on the bench were too weak.
Paul Gerrard had not played more than four times in one season. Edwin van der Sar’s steady performance which resulted in the Forest team current state also prevented the replacement goalkeeper from developing. At this point, Twain had no choice except to let the competitively inexperienced Paul Gerrard, who had no Champions League experience at all, become the Forest team’s goalkeeper to block Barcelona’s shots.
“Paul Gerrard, this is his first appearance in the UEFA Champions League this season.” Having said that, the British commentator sighed. “I don’t think he can create miracles and become famous in one game. His career has been lackluster. I think no matter what the outcome of this game will be, Manager Twain has to seriously consider the issue of his replacement goalkeeper. As the runner-up in the Premier League, they have the world-class goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, but it’s unacceptable that the replacement goalkeeper is only at the EFL Championship level.”
Barcelona took advantage of that opportunity to launch a fierce offensive against the Forest team’s penalty area. Within ten minutes, the performances and situations of the two teams completely reversed compared to ten minutes ago. Barcelona made seven staggering shots at the goal, while Nottingham Forest did not have a single shot.
The Spanish aggressor showed everyone what a true Barcelona team should look like. And the Catalonian commentator poked fun at the Forest team. “They’re showing us what real English football looks like Ha!”
Viduka returned to serve as a center back who used headers to help lift a siege. How could they expect the Forest team to have any offense? The ten players huddled in the penalty area to ward off Barcelona’s indiscriminate attacks. The rain drenched their entire bodies and their yellow away jerseys were stained brown and green by the dirt and turf. With those three intermingling colors, they looked pathetic.
“The Barcelona players have gradually adapted to the venue. Their wonderful coordination and dribbling are breathtaking to watch. This is the Barcelona that we’re familiar with!” cried the commentator excitedly.
Just then, Ronaldinho broke through in the front of the penalty area and agitated the Forest team’s defensive line into a complete mess. It was a tough situation. Unfortunately, his shot ricocheted off the goal post at the last minute. Despite that, Barcelona’s performance still won the praise of the vast majority of fans. They were not as fretful as they had been before. After all, they had one more player than the Forest team and the Forest team’s replacement goalkeeper was not strong. The game still had more than fifty minutes left. They had enough time to score, lead, and win.
Therefore, after ten minutes of indiscriminate shooting, they saw that the entire Forest team was forced to fall back. Now their goal area was ironclad and impenetrable. The experienced Barcelona slowed down their pace of attack. Instead of continuing to press on the Forest team, they slightly pulled back in order to draw out the Forest players and look for loopholes again.
The Barcelona players appeared confident. They calmly played with the style of technical football which they were accustomed to. They used constant back-and-forth passing of the football and breathtaking cut-and-pass positioning to lure the Forest team players.
The Forest fans felt pained as they watched Ronaldinho show off his skills in front of Arteta to his heart’s content. Arteta was unable to even touch the ball. At this point, everyone missed the man who sat in the stadium box seat.
If he were there when Ronaldinho dared to flaunt his footwork in front of him, it would have been the gleaming cleats of the boots that greeted the Brazilian.
Unknowingly, everyone was used to George Wood being on the field.
For Demetrio Albertini, this game was destined to be an unforgettable Champions League final for life.
In fact, before their opponent for the final was known and after the Forest had successfully advanced to the Champions League final, Albertini had wished that the Forest team’s opponent in the final was AC Milan. He had wanted Adriano Galliani and Carlo Ancelotti to see the standard he still could show in a high-level competition.
Perhaps, he had hoped to pay tribute in that way to the team which he had played on for fourteen years and show his best during Wood’s absence in the final.
However, Barcelona had eliminated AC Milan.
Before this game, Albertini had fully anticipated how difficult the final would be. He knew what kind of team Barcelona was. They were in the same powerhouse club as AC Milan. There was no reason to underestimate them. And, with Wood’s absence, he needed to share Wood’s job with Arteta in the midfield. But when Edwin van der Sar was sent off, the difficulty of the game went beyond Albertini’s expectations.
He was used to having George around him and playing with him in a game. When Wood was not on the field, it was already a struggle with him and the Arteta sharing his workload, not to mention that Wood had done this work alone before. What kind of fiend was he? Even Albertini, who normally had the most contact with Wood, was baffled.
But now was not the time to lament those matters. Wood would not appear in this game. No matter for what reason and what difficulty the team was in, he would not be able to drop from the sky to save his teammates. He sat in the brightly lit VIP box seat, watching the game in silence.
This game did not belong to Wood. If his mind was still filled with thoughts about Wood, it would be disrespectful to the other ten teammates.
This is my fight and my game. It belongs to me, Demetrio Albertini.
“Barcelona continues to pass the ball. They are not in a hurry to move forward. Nottingham Forest has a very close defensive formation and they don’t have a lot of chances. Deco takes the ball and makes a feint to break through but passes the football to Ronaldinho instead!”
As the commentator’s voice went an octave higher, so did the cheers in the stadium.
This buck-toothed Brazilian was Barcelona’s new star and leader. Everyone was happy to see the football at his feet and could not take their eyes off him as they looked forward to the brilliant moment that could appear at any time to amaze them.
Ronaldinho leaned sideways against Arteta and used the outside of his foot to step on the football, which was one of Ronaldinho’s signature moves. The advantage was that he could easily make various combinations of movements. Whether it was passing or dribbling, he could move the football far away from his opponent’s legs.
Arteta strove to intercept this ball but was obstructed by Ronaldinho’s pushback.
Just as everyone waited to see Ronaldinho flaunt his superb technical skills again and as Ronaldinho looked up to observe his teammates’ positioning, Albertini suddenly charged out from his blind spot and jabbed the ball from under his foot in a flash.
Ronaldinho jerked his head and saw the back of Nottingham Forest’s number 4.
“Albertini cuts off the ball from Ronaldinho’s foot and the Forest team fights back!…He did not pass the ball, he’s dribbling it and continues to move the ball forward…”
Although Ribry and Ashley Young had run ahead and Viduka was ready to receive the ball, Albertini did not pass the ball. He chose to dribble the ball forward to break through.
In the face of Edmlson, Albertini simply pushed the football towards the flank. The other man quickly came close and stuck to Albertini so as not to let him easily dribble the football and get past. He had been forced into a dead corner, but he still dribbled the ball forward.
Ashley Young saw his captain run in front of himself, hesitated for a moment, and turned to the middle to support and cover for his captain.
As expected, the Barcelona defenders, who had initially prepared to swarm the flank to intercept Albertini’s ball, saw Ashley Young running up and both Mrquez and Puyol chose to stay in the middle, leaving only Edmlson and van Bronckhorst to defend against Albertini.
No matter how the opponent tried to hinder behind his back, Albertini tenaciously dribbled the football alone to the left side of the Barcelona penalty area, guarded by van Bronckhorst. Once he was surrounded by the two men, Albertini slowed down, guarded the football, and waited for others to come up to support him.
Barcelona would not give him such a chance. Van Bronckhorst deftly tackled Albertini to the ground.
The referee naturally blew his whistle for the foul.
Van Bronckhorst shrugged his shoulders and retreated. Albertini got up from the ground and beckoned his teammates to come up. This was an opportunity for the Forest team to attack. They had practiced the set pieces repeatedly before the game which were especially used as one of the most powerful weapons to deal with Barcelona.
“In the 38th minute, a free kick from outside of the penalty area. This is a chance for Nottingham Forest and Albertini, who had dribbled the ball for more than 40 meters. Let’s take a look at how it’s going to unfold.”
The commentator quieted down and the players from both sides gathered inside the penalty area on the field. The Barcelona players were busy defending and the Forest players mingled inside the penalty area, waiting for an opportunity to score a goal.
Arteta had wanted to take this free kick, but Albertini refused. He wanted to grasp this opportunity he personally created.
The Forest players, Viduka, Pepe, and Piqu, who were best at headers, rushed to the front of the goal. Feeling like he suddenly stood out, Barcelona’s tallest player, Mrquez, was caught between them like a poor hot dog.
This was a common foul, and the Barcelona players did not think that the battered Forest team, which was short of player, could achieve anything. The defense in the penalty area seemed a bit relaxed, and the two-man wall in front of the goal was not very tight.
Albertini carefully observed the situation inside the penalty area and then moved back to prepare for the free kick.
He did not move backward to do the run-up. Instead, he swung his leg on the spot and the football bypassed the useless two-man wall to fly towards the Barcelona goal.
When the football flew upwards, the Barcelona defensive players did not even run much. They only saw a yellow figure streak across to the front of the Barcelona’s goal!
“Pepe! AhhOh my God! GOOOOAL! GOOOOOAL!! GOOOOOOAL!!”
In the face of the sudden header attack from the tall center back who had charged up from the back, Valds did not react in time. He just jumped a little and then turned his head to watch the football fly into the goal.
Puyol was deceived by Albertini’s curveball. He had thought the football would fly in, so he rushed in the direction of the goal. He did not expect the football to curve halfway and fly outwards to the defensive area where Puyol was in charge. When he saw Pepe charge up from the back and leap to head the ball towards the goal, he turned and jumped back to block, but it was too late. He was shorter than Pepe by a head!
“Pepe! The Brazilian center back whom Tony Twain used the exceptional talent clause this season to obtain a work permit from the FA for. Twain finally reaped the generous reward for it. Pepe has proved that he’s entirely worthy of being the exceptional talent.”
“With only ten players, Nottingham Forest scored first and took the lead with the first goal! This is unbelievable!”
“Oleguer should be responsible for dropping the ball! He completely didn’t notice Pepe plugging in from behind at all, and it was unwise for Puyol to compete for the header.”
“Aha! This is what Tony Twain’s team is all about. They never give up! When no one has any hope for them, they’re able to explode with shocking energy instead! Our English team is ahead of Barcelona by 1:0! And there are only ten of them!”
The commentators from various countries were all enlivened. They had waited thirty-eight minutes for the first goal in this final. They did not expect it to come from the embattled Nottingham Forest, who was one player short and fully at a disadvantage.