Chelsea FC may have emerged as the overall winners of the second edition of the UEFA Youth League, yet it was a tournament without any real losers.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk were beaten in the final, but they won many fans for their enterprising brand of football, tamed – albeit not entirely – only at the very last step, when their unbeaten record was ultimately broken by the odd goal in five.
RSC Anderlecht were within touching distance of a place in the showpiece; they learned the hard way with an indomitable Shakhtar fightback. AS Roma's exhibition of the finest art of Italian football withstood the eventual winners for 45 tactically exemplary minutes before succumbing to Chelsea.
"It's a very difficult tournament to win," Blues manager Adi Viveash told UEFA.com. "We follow in the footsteps of an outstanding Barcelona team last year. We managed to come all the way and that takes a lot. We are worthy winners. My players, for the rest of their lives, will remember that they were Youth League winners; the first English team to win it and that's going to mean a lot to them."
The final was every bit the crowning event of a path started by 32 sides last September. Not only did the participating teams travel together with their respective first teams during their UEFA Champions League campaigns, they also shared emotions and built camaraderie on and off the field with their opponents. The ultimate objective of all the players was development.
"It's a great experience for me – something I never thought would happen," said Chelsea forward Isaiah Brown, whose two goals in the final proved enough to take the Blues across the winning line first. "At the start of the season it was our goal to win the Youth League and now we've done that."
Brown left his team-mates briefly between the semi-final and final to sit on the bench as Chelsea picked up a 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers FC in the English Premier League. He could not wait to get back to inspire his side to victory, and get his hands on that trophy, with plenty of messages from the first-team dressing room to deliver.
With the whole club backing them, Chelsea just sensed their moment had come. "It's a dream come true," said Domenic Solanke, the campaign's 12-goal top scorer. "We've worked hard throughout the whole season and we've won nearly all of our games and we've all done a great shift to get here. We were confident going into the game."
They were clearly delighted after too; soaking their proud manager with a chest full of water. Not that it dampened Viveash's enthusiasm about a group of players he believes will – like all those who took part in this second edition of the Youth League – gain a lot from the experience.
"The final is about winning and the lads just got over the line in the end in a very entertaining final with a lot of goals," he said. "I've got immense pride in the job that all of the players and staff have done; I'm very proud of where they are at. We certainly do have some of the best players around in Europe, there's no doubt about that. This group of players are as good as they get."
As for the beaten finalists, they had no feeling of defeat – just of having gained plenty from the competition.
"I want to thank my own coaching team and the players," Shakhtar coach Valeriy Kryventsov told UEFA.com. "It was a great experience for us all but Chelsea deserved the win in the end. Congratulations to them." Humble in finishing second, not essentially losing. While Chelsea lifted the trophy, everybody was a winner in the 2014/15 UEFA Youth League.
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