With midnight approaching in the humidity of Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium, a tsunami of emotions flooded out of the pores of each and every Manchester City fan.
Rodri's precision strike made City Champions of Europe
Ecstasy, relief, disbelief and a sense of incredulity gushed forth, as Polish referee Szymon Marciniak blew the final whistle after an eternity of ‘five’ minutes added time.
Tears flowed uncontrollably both on and off the pitch as Ederson’s superb save – the last action in a taut and tense affair – was washed away in wave after wave of unbridled sky blue delirium.
Ederson's last minute save sealed the win for City.
Pep Guardiola’s team had done it – they’d finally done it – they were the Champions of Europe!
The pre-match confidence exuded by the 20,000 + travelling support in the City Fanzone had not been misplaced, but some miniscule doubts must’ve crept in as a tactically astute and well drilled Inter Milan kept Guardiola’s gladiators at bay for nearly 70 minutes.
Pep finally got his hands on his 3rd CL title.
Having annihilated 14-time CL winners Real Madrid and 5-time CL victors Bayern Munich, in the run up to the final, City were quite rightly red hot favourites, albeit the underdog Nerazzuri were seeking their fourth European Cup victory.
The Italian ‘Black and Blues’ succeeded in suffocating a clearly nervous and somewhat subdued City, as the Champions of England lacked their usual instinctive, incisive passing movements and clinical execution.
Tactically savvy Inter made life very difficult for City.
It was noticeable how Pep was imploring his players to settle into their pattern of play, shouting, ‘Relax, relax’, from his technical area.
Losing, what later transpired to be a clearly not 100% fit, Kevin De Bruyne to a snapped hamstring in the 36th minute was far from ideal, but perversely maybe a blessing in disguise. For a second successive Champions League Final the Belgian playmaker and goal taker extraordinaire was forced off injured, from the fray.
KDB was cruelly forced off for a second consecutive CL Final.
His replacement brought energy, exuberance and pace to the proceedings. Phil Foden could’ve soothed City nerves had he topped off a piece of sublime skill, but Onana in the Inter goal thwarted the Stockport Iniesta’s effort to make it 2-0.
The evening’s all important goal came from City’s most used player throughout 2022/23, Rodri, who was making his 52nd start. It was his absence, or that of Fernandinho as a defensive midfielder, which arguably cost City their first Champions League trophy in Porto against Chelsea in 2021.
Rodri's 68th minute winner was a work of art.
It was time to make amends for one of Guardiola’s rare miscalculations and the Spaniard stepped up in the 68th minute, arriving in the Inter 18-yard box, sizing up the angles, before passing a clean and impeccably placed shot beyond Onana.
There’s a similarity between the goal which delivered City’s ‘Holy Grail’ and the ultimate treble, with Rodri’s fine finish against Aston Villa at the Etihad in May 2022. The precision strike brought City level to 2-2 in a seismic 331-second comeback from 2-0 down, with a Gundogan brace helping clinch back-to-back Premier League titles.
That man again! Rodri celebrates his vital goal against Villa in 2022.
It cannot be lost on City fans that the same two players were instrumental at the sharp end of this season in delivering the Treble – another ‘Gun Dog’ brace at Wembley and Rodri’s slice of Turkish delight got them over the line.
Both personify all that is right about City’s dressing room, their tactical nous, football intelligence, iron-willed belief, elegant play and refreshing modesty.
Captain Gundogan simply has to stay at the Etihad.
Rodri spoke from the heart when he reflected on his own first 45 minutes in Istanbul: “I was shit!” This, from the man who is definitely, maybe, probably, certainly the best defensive midfielder in world football today.
Putting aside Jack Grealish’s impromptu dressing room rendition of, ‘Rodri’s on fire…’ City’s number 16 is well worthy of his own unique song. Suggestions on a postcard please.
City's No 16 needs a new terrace song in his honour.
Whilst the common consensus was that City underperformed, it screams volumes that they were still able to win what is perceived to be the most prestigious club trophy in the world.
Ederson, sometimes criticised for his shot stopping abilities, pulled off a trio of great saves; his rush from goal to block Lautaro Martinez’s effort, an instinctive goal line clearance from Romelu Lukaka’s header and that 97th minute punch clear.
Ederson pulled off three vital saves in Istanbul.
Bernardo once again showed why he should be worth a multi-million pound sponsorship deal with Duracell. Johnny Johnny Stones (so good we named him twice) was once again outstanding in his new centre back-cum-midfielder role, whereas Ruben Dias cut a commanding figure in the back line.
Job done! It's over - we've won the bloody thing.
Nathan Ake looked the part in the biggest game that Europe has to offer and Captain Gundogan worked tirelessly to avoid an upset in the land of his parents. Erling Haaland’s goal contribution was conspicuous by its absence (he’s only hit a meagre 52 prior to Istanbul) but his mere presence messed with the psychology of Simeone Inzaghi’s Ministry of Defence, while Super Jack Grealish was denied time and space to go on his mazy, marauding runs.
Johnny Johnny Stones - so good we named him twice.
Grealish said in his after match interview that he was ‘awful’, but if you can say that at the conclusion of a treble winning season, it can’t be all that bad.
At just £15m, Manu Akanji was one of the bargain buys of the season and, although a little bit rocky at times on the night, it was his penetrative run that led to Rodri’s winner.
Amazingly the contentious VAR was a complete no show. Whether the corrupt UEFA hierarchy omitted to mobilise their 12th man to keep City from ‘desecrating’ their jug-eared trophy is a mystery, but it was wonderfully refreshing not having to endure any sphincter squeezing moments of anxiety.
The spectre of VAR was conspicuous by its absence in the Ataturk Stadium.
What isn’t in doubt is that Inter Milan versus Manchester City was not the final that those governing world football wanted.
An unimpeachable source staying at the same swanky Istanbul hotel as Gianni Infantino, heard the FIFA President say they’d have preferred it to be Real Madrid versus AC Milan – the historical royalty of European football, along with all the accompanying commercial spin offs.
It’s so nice to hear that the sky blues and black and blues metaphorically p*ssed on UEFA and FIFA’s chips!
Inter fans were loud and proud as well as friendly and respectful.
Equally pleasing was the respect and sportsmanship from both sets of fans, before and after the match. The 40,000/50,000 supporters mixed harmoniously in Istanbul with not so much of a hint of trouble. Hooliganism, running street battles and bar wrecking were well off the menu, instead replaced by handshakes, selfies and exchanges of congratulations and commiserations.
Of course the mood was much more combative during the game, with City fans giving Messrs Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Darmian plenty of flak for their previous association with the Old Trafford underachievers.
20,000+ City fans witnessed history in the making.
Keeping with the United theme, the Italian fans displayed their loyalty and admiration for their team, staying and applauding the silver medal ceremony, leaving the Inter players in no doubt of their appreciation. Not all fan bases have been known to do that in recent times.
Edin Dzeko’s name was sung in time honoured tradition, amidst a standing ovation and rapturous reception from the Sky Blue supporters. We never forget what he did for us – without that goal there wouldn’t have been a 93:20 Aguerroooo Moment!
Edin Dzeko was given a standing ovation by City fans.
As euphoric as it was last Saturday night, I’d be a hypocrite if I said winning what is ostensibly a cup competition – one in which a team can lose at least three games, even more – outweighs the merits of a 38-game Premier League season. It doesn’t.
On the way to The Double in just 12 seconds at Wembley.
How can you be proclaimed as the champions of a continent if you can’t even win your own domestic league?
In City’s case they are the contemporary champions of both England and Europe with a tasty treble of three consecutive Premier League titles, plus the Champions League and FA Cup in 2023.
Champions of England three times on the spin.
Which is the only team to be have begun a season as Champions of England, retained that status and added the Champions League at the conclusion of said campaign? The answer begins with Manchester and ends with City.
That’s not to under estimate the achievement of seeing off Europe’s best. In his post-match interview on BT Sport, Pep spoke of his joy because, ‘…it’s so hard to win this fucking competition…’ Cue apologies to viewers for any colourful language from the pathetic politically correct host, Jake Humphrey.
Pep's 'blue' language had BT Sports in a spin.
Even funnier still was Man of the Match Rodri interrupting Sergio Aguero’s post comments –predominantly in Spanish – about his former club’s win. Embracing City’s all-time record goal scorer, Rodri proclaimed Sergio as a, ‘Fucking legend!’ It was more than an hour after the 9pm watershed but along came another apology from BT Sports.
It was just as well BT Sport didn’t canvas opinions from City fans at the Ataturk Stadium – that really would’ve turned the airwaves blue.
Champions of Europe we know who we are!
In the lead up to the game UEFA had made public statements saying they had learned from their mistakes at the CL Final in Paris last year.
The Champions League Final ‘experience’ was – by and large – enjoyable, DESPITE UEFA not because of UEFA.
In the last seven days social media has been awash with horror stories afflicting thousands of City fans. One wonders if it was the same for Inter.
Tears of joy for Super Jack but tears of frustration and anger for City fans.
Istanbul’s transportation and road infrastructure was gridlocked – wholly inadequate and totally unfit for purpose. Shambolic, shameful – basically shit, from start to finish. Hundreds of tales of trauma have emerged of coaches taking up to three hours to get from parts of Istanbul to the Ataturk
The coaches lacked air conditioning in hot and stifling conditions. Toilet facilities or drinking water were non-existent. Bus drivers didn’t even know where they were going, often prolonging journeys in dreadful conditions.
At least Manchester has a functioning road system unlike Istanbul!
UEFA’s promise of a free and frequent shuttle service to and from the ground was a farce, bordering on fraudulent. Fans even took to abandoning the buses and walking alongside the Turkish motorways – a hazardous undertaking – to reach the stadium before kick off.
All fired up - Rodri and Ake.
Supporters were urged to get to the fanzones as early as 1pm – a whole nine hours before kick-off. Can you imagine City asking fans to be at the Etihad at 6am for a 3pm game? It was preposterous.
Free drinking water was supposed to be available to stave off the risk of dehydration in the soaring Turkish temperatures – another UEFA myth.
Thousands of flag waving City fans were left angry and frustrated by UEFA's shameful ineptitude.
Fans were to have easy access to food and beer and at reasonable prices. If queuing for more than hour to get poor quality food, only then to be told you had to join another queue – for up to 45-60 minutes – to buy an accompanying drink was ‘easy and reasonable’, then UEFA were true to their word!
Mobile toilet facilities – estimated to be 20 for 20,000 fans – were ridiculously inadequate and disgusting. One account has emerged of a City fan being trapped inside, as the horse box-like toilet was being towed away to ‘dispose’ of its contents. It would be almost laughable were it not so appalling.
Just a meagre 52 goals for Erling Haaland in his debut season at City.
Given that UEFA and Istanbul had something like four years to prepare for the fixture, it was staggering to see that tarmac was an alien concept.
The immediate surrounds of the Ataturk Stadium resembled something between a quarry and a construction site. It was an inhospitable terrain for those physically able to walk over the gravel and rock surface. It was a bloody nightmare for those in wheelchairs and anyone with mobility issues.
Crestfallen Inter fans had to cope with defeat as well as the traffic nightmares in Istanbul.
It was even worse in the dark after the match. Zero lighting meant thousands of people trying to navigate around the coach park. On one side was a 10m drop into a ravine with absolutely no safety barrier. The health and safety of ordinary match going fans paying from £60 to £550 for tickets is of little or no concern to UEFA.
For the millions of viewers watching the match on TV, the stadium must have cut an impressive sight against a beautiful sunset as dusk descended. The most prominent cuts of the night were to be found on the backs of the legs of both sets of supporters.
Ederson falls to the ground in tears at the final whistle.
Tacky, nasty non-fold up seats caused lacerations and bruises as people caught their calves on them throughout the match. Extremely narrow spaces between the rows made for a precarious balancing act as fans attempted to make their way to their designated seats – blissfully unaware of the pending assaults from the inanimate plastic perpetrators.
To top it all UEFA sent a post-match survey by email, stating, ‘Fans are at the heart of our tournaments, and we want to use your experience of live football to improve the events we deliver.’
Let the celebrations begin.
The Istanbul – Fan Experience Survey contained a series of insipid choices ranked on a scoring mechanism of 1 to 5. It avoided any meaningful issues whereby fans could express their true feelings. Either that or I somehow missed the question: Do you think UEFA are a bunch of inept, lying, greedy, corrupt b@st@rds who couldn’t organise the proverbial p*ss up in a brewery?
That winning feeling.
It’s a damning indictment on the Ataturk facilities that Istanbul’s plethora of clubs including Galatasaray, Besiktas, Istanbul Basaksehir, Kasimpasa have all passed up the opportunity to use it as their home ground on a permanent basis. At present a smaller club – Fatih Karagumuruk – have been resident since 2020. It’s the national stadium but it leaves so much to be desired.
Even more distasteful, but suitably predictable, is the way City’s Treble has been portrayed in the media.
Manchester City on a mission to keep on winning and screw the haters!
With the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup trophies all at the Etihad, three is obviously the magic number, but the anti-City brigade much prefer 115 – the figure that symbolises the fatuous Financial Fair Play charges levelled at the club by the Premier League.
Have you ever seen the word ‘asterisk’ used so much as common currency in editorials and comments when it comes to City’s haul of trophies?
Pep and Khaldoon will leave it to the lawyers to clear City's name.
It’ll be another victory when City’s lawyers chalk up a tick in the win column and all the caveats associated with the club’s titles are well and truly trashed. As their team has become ever more dominant, City supporters have become ever more hardened to the never ending jealousy, malice and spite of rival fans and the majority of the mass media.
City are head and shoulders above the rest.
Dan Roan the BBC’s Sports Editor was staying at the same hotel in Istanbul as myself and Mrs Read But Never Red. In all fairness to him he congratulated us on the Sunday morning – he didn’t have to – but he soon reverted to type in his reporting with the FFP accusations to the fore.
We ARE the Champions.
Beating Inter Milan in the first ever meeting between the clubs has wreaked havoc with next season’s playlist for fans of Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Chelsea et al. What the hell are they going to do without their standard chant; ‘Champions of Europe – you’ll never sing that!’
Sheikh Mansour was in Istanbul to see his crowned Champions of Europe.
The City fans were more than happy to serenade Sheikh Mansour, present for only his second ever live match, as he kept up his own 100% win record watching his team.
A feel good factor was everywhere and the locals – many of them football fanatics – greeted anybody wearing a City shirt with smiles, waves and shouts of ‘Championes’.
A happy ending for KDB.
The Turkish Airlines steward on the flight back to London Heathrow offered me a choice of meals, ‘Would you like chicken with rice, beef pasta or Inter?’
He smiled, ‘Oh sorry, you’ve already eaten Inter, so is it the chicken or the beef?’
There's reigning Champions and raining on the Champions!
City now reign supreme like never before and even the Manchester rain which poured down on last Monday’s victory parade couldn’t dampen the spirits of Pep, his players and the fans alike.
As the song goes; ‘We don’t give a f*ck because we’re all pissed up…’ whether it be on doubles or trebles.
By David Walker
Dedicated to a baby blue who is just 18 days old and has already ‘seen’ City win both the domestic double and the best treble in English football history – our grandson Charlie. Welcome to the world little man.
Footnote: A message of thanks to all the Read But Never Red readers and followers who came up to say hello to myself and Debi in Istanbul - in the heart of the City, the Fanzone, the Ataturk Stadium and at Istanbul International Airport. It was both gratifying and a little humbling – thank you.
Twitter: @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu