Sie Sind Die Besten
Kalle Koskinen Recounts The Most Memorable Game Of His Playing Career
Les grandes équipes
The most iconic song in football. Possibly the most iconic song in the world. Lining up with my team mates and facing the Wembley crowd, with the choir singing that iconic anthem, that was when the magnitude of the event hit me. I was about to play the biggest game of my club career in what was set to be an all-time classic.
The lyrics of the anthem were sang in French, German and English. The trilogy of Europe's core languages. It was an all-German Champions League final as I lined up alongside my team mates in the red strip of Bayern Munich against the yellow strip of Borussia Dortmund. It was at Wembley, the home of English football. Franck Ribéry, our star player and the man selected as the one to watch for the final, completed the trinity of nationalities.
'Sie sind die Besten' - these are the best. We were the two best teams in the competition that year. The two German giants. We rocked Europe in our own unique variations. Nobody could stop us as we marched towards the final showpiece event, where dreams were made. Both teams deserved the trophy, but only one could take it home.
My club career had been lead me to this moment. I left HJK for the German giants in January 2010 for a fee of €2.5M and we lifted the Bundesliga title that season. It was very nearly a dream debut season for myself in the famous red strip, as we competed in a UEFA Champions League final. Inter Milan denied us club football's greatest prize, with a José Mourinho-lead team proving too much for us in Madrid.
We endured more heartbreak as we succumbed to a formidable Chelsea side the previous year. It was in the very same stage of the competition, the final, and in our own home. Didier Drogba was the hero of the night as he scored a dramatic late equaliser before scoring the decisive penalty. We were distraught.
My style of play had altered since arriving at the Bavarian club. I changed from becoming an all-action goal scoring midfielder to becoming a tenacious ball winner in the middle of the park. I was partnered alongside a less-mobile Bastian Schweinsteiger regularly, who I provided the energy for. I was Bayern's workhorse in midfield, while Bastian was the brain of the team.
We were a team with incredible quality in defence, with the best goalkeeper in the world in the form of Manuel Neuer between the sticks. Our skipper, Phillip Lahm, offered experience in a back line which included Boateng, Dante and Alaba. With myself and Schweinsteiger in midfield, we were a very solid back six when required.
It was our attacking flair which impressed so many. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry were our star players going forward, but we had Thomas Müller, Mario Mandžukić, Mario Gómez, Claudio Pizarro and a young Xherdan Shaqiri providing the goals for us on a regular basis too, with the former two of those starting in the final.
We were very wary of our opposition, Borussia Dortmund, however. They had pipped us to the Bundesliga title in each of the last two seasons, albeit we did regain our spot as champions in the season just gone. With the likes of Mats Hummels, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski in their team, we knew they had star quality.
Jürgen Klopp stood in their dugout. He was a very animated character, at the quietest of times. His belief in a high-energy game rubbed off on his players who were willing to die for their club. Him and Dortmund made an opposition which we battled hard against, but had a great respect for.
In our dugout was an elder statesman known as Jupp Heynckes. He was a manager loved by the fans and who had a fantastic CV to his name, having lifted the World Cup as a West Germany player before lifting the Champions League as Real Madrid manager. We had complete faith in a man who acted so much as our father throughout his time at the club. He was our general.
The relationship between Dortmund and ourselves was a tense one but we both respected each other's beliefs. 'Echte Liebe' was painted along banners and flags held by the Dortmund faithful. The phrase meant 'true love', which was exactly what they felt for their club.
'Mia San Mia' was our slogan, and we stood by it. 'We are who we are' was its translation and we played our own brand of football in our own way. We were unique and different to the world and that was what made us who we were. It was our mission statement, it was everything that defined our football club. We were determined to prove we could win the Champions League our way, having fallen short at the final hurdle three years previously, and one year previously. We were determined to prove our worth.
In the evening sun at London, both sets of players started at a scintillating pace. Dortmund made the earlier noises, in truth, cutting through myself and Schweinsteiger early on. Lewandowski forced an incredible save out of Neuer, with our number one then required to deny Błaszczykowski in the box.
Dortmund's 'heavy metal' brand of football had us on the back foot, and they were throwing everything at us. But we had class of our own, and both Mandžukić and myself came close with headers from inside the penalty area.
It was a very hot day in London and every single player was putting in an incredible shift. Both teams wanted the win and, on another day, both sides might have scored five or six each in what was an incredible first half football. It was the class of both teams in attack which shone through.
Dortmund could not sustain their incredible pace in the second half and we sensed an opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck. We took it. I played Robben into space in the box, who cut back for a free Mandžukić to give us the lead.
An İlkay Gündoğan penalty goal to tie the game was not enough for Dortmund as we continued to pounce on the space left by the tired Dortmund players. Alaba came close with a long-range drive, Mandžukić hit the side netting, Schweinsteiger had a long range strike parried and I slapped a shot against the top side of the bar as we looked to win the game.
It was our Dutch maestro who produced a moment of true magic in the box to win the game for us. With ninety seconds remaining, Robben dodged a number of desperate lunges in the box before sliding the ball beyond Weidenfeller and into the back of the net. We had won it.
Bayern Munich had won a fifth European Cup/Champions League, and it was my first and only time earning football's holy grail. The trophy I coveted so much as a child, and had missed out on in two previous finals, was finally in my hands.
I had achieved my one and only goal in football. I had reached the pinnacle. All of the pain from before had faded away momentarily. Two lost finals in recent previous seasons, being cheated out of European Championship qualification a number of years ago, the sadness which followed my family following my mother's passing. It all faded away.
I gave my medal to my father, who was in the crowd. Tears streamed down his face as we embraced. I felt his pride as we shared words. I would not have achieved the medal had my father, and my mother, not made the sacrifices they did for me. It was their medal, as much as it was mine. It was our special moment.
As I made my way towards the dressing room I felt a hand grip my shoulder and I turned around. A familiar giant stood before me. It was the Dortmund manager, Jürgen Klopp, gracious in defeat. He congratulated me and I offered him my respect for the battling performance his team produced.
"I read an article which reported how you spoke of dedicating everything you do to your mother, who passed when you were born, and your father who is always by your side, supporting you every day. Not a lot of people would wear their family colours on their sleeve like that. I admire this about you."
"Thank you, Jürgen. That means a lot to me."
"Thank you for being somebody who the children of this world can aspire to be like. I always read stories of the world that are not so nice and then to see a player who truly fights with their heart on their sleeve is refreshing. I can only ask of you, as one professional to another, to never change that about yourself."
"Never. I promise."
We embraced, as if we had known each other for an eternity, before making our seperate ways off the pitch. Moments like that were why I adored the opposition manager. He was a man of class. He was a football manager second, and a human first. A world class human. A hero. Somebody to aspire to be like.
In my greatest moment as a player, I had aspirations to become something else. Something better. I didn't want to be remembered for what I did on the pitch. I wanted to be somebody who could make a difference, but not just as a player or a manager. I wanted to be a person who could inspire those around me to be the best they could be. I wanted to be a hero."
, thank you. I can only hope to not disappoint!
, the heartbreak is something which shapes the character that Kalle becomes in this story, but there is plenty of more heartbreak to come!
, thank you Lil' Griffy!
, it was a nightmare for them. So close, yet so far. It would have been a tournament to put Finland on the global football map. Some truly great players missed out that day.
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