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21 April 2024

Chelsea need to join Euro elite

Desailly on Chelsea duty in Al Ain last week. (NASSER BABU) 

By John McAuley

Marcel Desailly knows a thing or two about the Champions League.

The former French centre-back laid the foundations for Marseille to win the inaugural competition in 1993 – the first time group stage was allied to its traditional knock-out format – and became the first player to win successive European Cups with different clubs when, 12 months later, AC Milan crushed Barcelona 4-0.

Now retired from the game, the decorated defender is hoping one of his other former clubs can scale new European heights.

"Chelsea definitely need to win the Champions League," says Desailly ahead of this week's last 16 tie with Juventus. "We're still involved in three competitions and, even though [Luiz Felipe] Scolari got sacked, we've still got hope and happiness to continue to do great things.

"The best is yet to come from Chelsea, and the Champions League is very important in that."

To be crowned champions of Europe, the Blues must go a step further than they did last season. Manchester United triumphed on penalties on a rain-soaked Moscow night in May, a final that saw two English sides pitted against each other for the first time in the tournament's history.

Desailly believes the Premier League will continue to dominate on the continent.

"The power of football has changed hands," says the World Cup and European Championship-winning Frenchman. "In the 1990s it was the Italians who had a tight grip on the Champions League, but now it's obviously the English.

"It looks like the Spanish will also be one of the countries to contend – everybody will say Barcelona because of their league form – but the reality is not the same for the Champions League.

"In England they have increased their game both technically and tactically because they were clever enough to bring foreign players into the country."

Chelsea are now one of the most cosmopolitan clubs in England and Desailly says winning Europe's premier trophy would elevate the West Londoners to the very top of the game.

For all the filthy lucre it generates, the Champions League is the place to be.

"It's very important because it's where you compete against the best clubs in Europe," he explains. "You can see how high-profile it is because, even though there's a current credit crunch, football doesn't have that failure.

"It's still growing because the level of exposure is still very high. People's lives may be hard, but they're still asking for more football.

"And the Champions League is benefiting from the desire of the people and the media to be present in the tournament.

"Everybody is going to certainly enjoy the next round of games, especially when [Claudio] Ranieri – one of the coaches to build the foundations at Chelsea – comes back to Stamford Bridge with his Juventus side [on Wednesday]."

Champions League Fixtures:


Atletico Madrid v Porto

Lyon v Barcelona

Arsenal v Roma

Inter Milan v Manchester United


Real Madrid v Liverpool

Chelsea v Juventus

Villareal v Panathinaikos

Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich

(11.45pm kick-off unless stated)