UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin last night moved to defend the decision to award the Europa League final to Azerbaijan, whilst simultaneously taking aim at English clubs.
Chelsea 4-1 Arsenal
After a campaign packed with goals, drama and high-quality football all-round, Premier League giants Arsenal and Chelsea eventually emerged as the Europa League’s finest early last month, before going head-to-head in the tournament’s finale on the 29th of May.
Both sides headed into proceedings in search of their first silverware of the season, with Arsenal having required a win to secure Champions League football for next season.
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, meanwhile, entered the clash with his sights firmly set on the first title of his managerial career.
And, when all was said and done, Sarri put his trophy-less past behind him, in emphatic fashion.
A second-half demolition on the part of the Blues eventually saw Chelsea put their London rivals to the sword by 4 goals to 1.
Eden Hazard (2), Olivier Giroud and Pedro did the damage, as the Pensioners showcased their class when it mattered most.
The on-pitch action two weeks ago, however, only accounted for a minute fraction of the talk surrounding the Europa League final.
The main talking point regarded the location of the showcase, with UEFA having surprised the masses when announcing their decision to hold the clash in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan.
The choice on the part of European football’s governing body had far-reaching consequences, with neither Arsenal or Chelsea having managed to fill their dismal ticket allocations, resulting in a hugely-underwhelming atmosphere.
In addition, Arsenal were without Henrikh Mkhitaryan for the matchup, as political tensions between Azerbaijan and Mkhitaryan’s native Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region saw the attacking midfielder opt against travelling with Unai Emery’s squad.
UEFA, though, do not appear at all regretful regarding their decision to award the final to Azerbaijan.
Speaking last night during a talk at Oxford University, president Aleksander Čeferin stood firmly by UEFA’s opting for Baku, citing the need to develop football throughout Europe, as opposed to handing all major showpieces to the likes of England and Germany.
Regarding the heavy complaints over the host city, Čeferin also took the opportunity to take aim at English clubs, suggesting that the actions of the Premier League’s heavyweights ‘don’t help their popularity within European football’:
‘I was supported by 76 per cent of the (European) federations in my first (UEFA) election but not England. England supported the other candidate.’
Whenever we have English clubs, whenever we have complaints, they’re mad! You don’t help yourself in the popularity within European football with that. If somebody asks me why we played in Baku, I would say: “People live there. Homo sapiens live there.’
‘They had to watch the game at 11pm because of the time difference but nobody complained.’
‘If we have two Azerbaijani teams playing in London nobody would complain. They would come and play without any problems. We decided a year and a half ago that we play in Baku, which has a modern stadium of 70,000. I think there is only one stadium in England that is bigger.’
‘So you should see the happiness, the humbleness of people when they see live the superstars they like. We have to develop football everywhere… not England, Germany only.’